Five Decades and Counting
Mildred Bond Roxborough grew up listening to her parents talk about the NAACP. Today she is the longest-serving staff member of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization.
“They would have periodic discussions in the evenings during the week to talk to my sisters about civil rights and human rights and to talk about what I guess you might consider to be adult concerns,” said
Roxborough. “I was quite young, and I would either be sitting on my mother or my father’s lap and I grew up listening to these discussions.” Roxborough’s parents, Ollie and Mattye Tollette Bond, founded the first chapter of the NAACP in Brownsville, Tenn., in 1936. When she was 9 years old, Roxborough asked her mother if she could write to Roy Wilkins, the then-editor of The Crisis, and arrange to sell the magazine to people in the community. When Wilkins said yes, Roxborough began selling The Crisis for 10 cents. Whenever she sold a subscription, she says, she insisted that her customers also learn the words to the Black national anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing.
Roxborough attended Howard University and after her second year, transferred to New York University where she received a degree in social psychology. She then earned a master’s degree in social psychology from Columbia University. Roxborough did additional graduate work in Marseilles, France, and Cuernavaca, Mexico. Once back in the United States, she took her first job in 1954, working with the NAACP.
“I’ve worked in virtually every department in the Association except the Accounting Department. And each job was different,” Roxborough notes. “But I was baptized — I called it a baptism — into the Department of Branches and Field Services.”
For the first five years of her more than five-decade tenure with the NAACP, Roxborough was a field director-at-large, in which she traveled to local branches or state conferences to provide aid wherever she was needed. She even washed dishes and did a little housecleaning, she says.
“It was one of the most extraordinary kinds of educations I could ever have envisioned,” Roxborough says of her time in the field.
After 52 years with the Association, Roxborough retired. She returned to work on a project, but when it ended she was offered another project and then another. Ultimately, she worked out an agreement that, she says, allows her to work on various jobs with the NAACP.
Today the 92-year-old works the equivalent of three days a week. Sure, Roxborough could retire. But the direction of the country and its current leader, concern her.
“For the first time in a number of years, we have someone [in the White House] who has outwardly and publicly expressed racial disparities, who happens to be anti-immigrant (and immigrants helped found the country) and anti-Black,” Roxborough says. “It’s just a difficult period in which we live, and I think each of us has a responsibility as a citizen to do what they can — we can — to address it.”
— Karen Juanita Carrillo