Back in the late 1940s, after her mother died, 7-year-old Jane Ligon was sent by her father to live with his parents in a small-frame house in Adams, Tennessee. It was a time in certain parts of the U.S. when Blacks and whites...
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Back in the late 1940s, after her mother died, 7-year-old Jane Ligon was sent by her father to live with his parents in a small-frame house in Adams, Tennessee. It was a time in certain parts of the U.S. when Blacks and whites had separate drinking fountains, swimming pools, and schools.
Young Jane found herself in the depths of segregation. She grew up entering restaurants through side doors, sitting in the colored section of the movie theater, and from ninth to twelfth grade taking a school bus 15 country miles from home – past several whites-only schools – to attend a Robertson County segregated Black school.
“There was nothing I could do about it at the time . . . being a young Black girl,” says Ligon, an administrative assistant-bookkeeper at Bransford Elementary School in Springfield, Tennessee. “But I knew someday I might be able to help change things for the better and make a difference in peoples’ lives.”
Ligon has gone on to become one of the longest-serving educators the county has ever seen. After serving several years at New Cedar Hill Elementary School, she has spent more than 45 years at Bransford where she is fondly known to several generations of students and their families as “Miss Jane.”
“I don’t have the words to express what this lady has meant to the educational system of Robertson County,” says Bransford Principal Harold Barbee, who met Ligon when he attended the school in the late 1960s. “She has touched the lives of so many students and parents that the names are too numerous to mention.”
Barbee, who has worked with Ligon at the school for the past 13 years, says she is “an inspiration to all who come into contact with her.” Like Barbee, many Bransford teachers and parents first met Ligon when they were students.
Says Ligon: “My parent relationships help when I have to say to a student: “Sweetheart, I know your mama. Your mama is not going to be very pleased if Miss Jane has to call her. Some of them . . . their little eyes get very big. You know, I’ve had to call a few.”
The motherly Ligon, who has a daughter, finds herself interacting as much with former students as current ones.
“I’ve seen a lot of them through their schooling, their marriages, and some even through their divorces,” she says.
In addition to her school work, Ligon has thrived in numerous leadership positions since 1985 as a member of the Robertson County Education Association (RCEA), and as a board member of the Tennessee Education Association (TEA) and National Education Association (NEA). She is currently RCEA’s first vice president and secretary of the National Council of Education Support Professionals (NCESP).
“I have a network of NEA friends I’ll cherish for the rest of my life,” she says. “We work together to fight anti-public education politicians. These are trying times, but issues of fairness, equality, and protection of workers’ rights have never been more important.”
While public schools are under attack from all sides, Ligon is particularly irked by legislators trying to designate education support professionals (ESPs) as at-will employees while giving school directors the power to dismiss ESPs without due process.
“This is the time to get out there and organize members and community stakeholders,” she says. “We need to check our legislators’ report cards and see who our friends are and remember them at the polls.”
As a political activist, Ligon has participated in numerous voter registration drives, canvassed countless streets in her state, and lobbied legislators at the Tennessee statehouse as well as Capitol Hill. With a formidable intellect and a work ethic that rivals most people 25 years her junior, she remains active in local, state and national politics.
In August, Ligon attended a two-day politically-oriented workshop for ESPs held at NEA headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“I didn’t think I would ever see a Black president in my lifetime,” she says. “But it’s more than that. The Obama administration believes in the importance of public education funding, early childhood education, and financial assistance for all students, among other things.”
The dusty roads which swept Ligon and other Black children 15 miles away from home to segregated schools, and the Main Street businesses that forced her to use colored-only entrances and separate public facilities haven’t left an ounce of bitterness in her heart, she says.
“I had a wonderful upbringing, full of love,” says Ligon, “My grandparents struggled, but I never knew it. They didn’t share their troubles or discuss the troubles of society in front of me.”
While Ligon’s persistent optimism and indomitable independent spirit helped her overcome early issues of racial inequality, it is memories of her grandparents’ undying love and certain aspects of Southern culture that define her.
“I’m Southern,” she says, proudly. “We bless everybody, we have heart, we are friendly, and courteous. We take pride in thinking we have good schools.”
School district demographics in Robertson County have recently changed from a dominant Black and white population to one with a large contingency of Hispanics. Today, Bransford is more than 50 percent Latino, including immigrant parents and students struggling to learn English.
“I try to greet them all,” says Ligon, who does not speak Spanish. “I can smile in Spanish.”
After all that Ligon has experienced in her lifetime, she says nothing pains her more than seeing a young student in distress who she cannot communicate with.
“It hurts my heart when a little one is crying their heart out and I don’t know why,” Ligon says. “She doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak Spanish. Is she sick? Mad? Or just misses mama? But we do have a lovely person who is our translator. There is an answer to every problem. You just need to find it.”
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