By SHELDON BERMONT / Petaluma Towns Correspondent
Faith Ross is a laid-back Petaluma woman with 30 years in the banking industry. She retired from the Sonoma County Assessor’s Office in 2007 and went back to work for them as a private contractor.
Free of her old 9-to-5 schedule, she was able to pursue her passions, one of which was working with the Petaluma Blacks for Community Development. Through that she discovered another passion — finding women who had fueled the civil rights movement.
Ross, 65, was raised in Louisiana and saw the beginnings of the formally-declared fight for civil rights with Martin Luther King in the ‘60s. But in 2010, she saw a television commercial in which Ford Motor Company claimed to be “a proud sponsor” of a traveling exhibit called “Freedom Sisters.”
“I was curious,” she said, “and after researching it on the Internet, I made a formal written request to Ford to have the exhibit come to Petaluma.”
They responded in 2011, informing her that they were only looking for larger cities as potential venues.
Not easily dissuaded, Ross began to explore the possibilities of Petaluma staging its own exhibit. A year later, the results of her effort can be seen at the Petaluma Historical Museum in an exhibit called “Women Who Fought for Civil Rights” that will run through March 11.
Ross recalls with a smile her husband’s patience as she put in far too many late nights glued to the Internet and working the phone to make the exhibit happen. In the research process she came up with a few surprises.
While the history books she had been exposed to called Rosa Parks the “mother of the freedom movement,” Ross learned that women had been fighting for civil rights long before Parks refused to give up her bus seat in Montgomery, Ala., and not all of them were black.
Lydia Maria Child, a white woman from Medford, Mass., set her contemporaries on their heels in 1833 by writing a book called “An Appeal in Favor of That Class of American Called Africans.” In it she called for the immediate emancipation of all slaves.
Elizabeth Peratrovich, a Tlingit Indian, single-handedly pushed for the passage of Alaska’s Anti-Discrimination Law of 1945.
And Dolores Huerta, a Chicano labor leader, dedicated more than 30 years to providing field workers with a decent standard of living.
“History is written by people in power, not by the people who are affected by that power,” Ross said. “What I read in school just wasn’t the whole story.”
In her exhibit, she features 25 women who fought against social injustice. In addition to sharing the information with museum visitors, Ross hopes the scope of her two grown sons and eight grandchildren will be enriched from her findings.
The exhibit’s framed black and white photos and drawings depict world-weary yet gentle faces, examples of the women who shared the fight against prejudice.
“What we want people to know is that the movement brought people from all races together for the cause,” Ross said. “The more you understand about the history of civil rights, the more you see how it applies to every segment of society, not just African-Americans.”
In the pamphlet she wrote for the exhibit, Ross explains what the 25 women had in common: “the desire to make our world one where all people are treated equally, where everyone has equal access to and opportunities for the basic privileges and rights afforded under the laws of this great country.”
“Women Who Fought for Civil Rights”
When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; noon to 3 p.m. Sundays through March 11
Where: The Petaluma Historical Museum, 20 Fourth St.
For more information, contact Faith Ross at email@example.com or call the museum, 778-4398.