Fifty years ago, Elizabeth Johnson Rice was jailed for sitting where she wasn't supposed to -- the whites-only lunch counter at Thalhimers department store.
Next weekend, she'll be staying with the granddaughter of the man who had her arrested.
Rice sees the friendship she has forged with Elizabeth Thalhimer Smartt as a measure of how much has changed since Feb. 22, 1960, when she was one of 34 Virginia Union University students arrested for defying segregation in downtown Richmond.
"It's just sort of symbolic of the times we live in now," Rice said. "And it shows that things do change and people do grow."
Rice's brother, who was also arrested at Thalhimers, would later refuse to sit in the black section of Richmond traffic court. The U.S. Supreme Court in April 1963 overturned Ford T. Johnson Jr.'s contempt conviction and ordered the desegregation of all courtrooms. Two months later, the justices also overturned the trespassing convictions of Johnson, Rice and the other VUU students in the Thalhimers case.
Thalhimers already had begun a "quiet integration" process, she [Smartt] said. The store had the most liberal return policy for black customers and had integrated the employee lunchroom in the 1950s. Her grandfather, who died in 2005, was very sensitive to the issue, she said. He would tell her "we didn't choose to be born Jewish, and no one chose to be black or white." She thinks he would have integrated years earlier but for the economic clout of his white clientele, who would have forced him out of business.
Fifty years ago the Council of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia could not agree that it summer camps should be integrated.