NAVAL INFORMATION FORCES, SUFFOLK, Va. — “Everyone here was 12-years-old at one time,” said Dr. Patricia Turner as she addressed her attentive audience, “and some of you will always be 12-years-old, but 12 was a very personable age for me and many others.”
Sailors and Department of Defense (DoD) civilians assigned to Naval Information Forces (NAVIFOR), Naval Network Warfare Command (NNWC), 10th Fleet, Suffolk and Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command (NCDOC) gathered Mar. 23 to recognize the 30th annual observance of Women’s History month with a ceremony featuring Turner, who was one of “The Norfolk 17”.
Rear Adm. Matthew J. Kohler, commander, NAVIFOR, delivered the ceremony’s opening remarks recalling the long history of women being underrepresented, underpaid, underserved, and underappreciated in our society.
“The good news is that we have made significant progress in the Navy,” said Kohler, “and the nation is not only recognizing the remarkable talent women bring to any organization, but also how we’ve progressed to fully integrating women into our fighting forces. In much of our world, women remain second-class citizens or even without status, so it is appropriate that we take a moment out of our busy day to recognize women’s contributions.”
The 2017 theme, “Honoring Trailblazing Women Who Have Paved the Way for Future Generations,” was highlighted here by the event’s guest speaker, Dr. Patricia Turner. A Civil Rights pioneer and former educator, Turner spoke about her involvement in “The Norfolk 17” in 1959 in the Hampton Roads area during the desegregation process mandated by an earlier ruling in 1954 of Brown v. Board of Education.
“Prior to the 8th grade, I attended Ruffner Junior High School, one of several “all black” schools that had no heat in the winter and no air-conditioning for fall or spring and since we lived in the Norview area . . . we had to take two buses to get to our school” said Turner. “My brother and I were Navy brats, as my father was a Master Chief in the Submarine service. Many local community leaders looked upon us as (1) being military children and (2) not being as smart as other children.”
In 1958 the NAACP asked some children if they would like to be in the process of walking to school which involved the decree Brown v. Board of Education; separate but not equal, not realizing that they would have to undergo academic and psychological testing in order to assure “the system” that each of the “17” was academically ready before attending classes in Norfolk’s public school system. Following a federal judge’s ruling about reconsidering student applications, Turner and her brother were chosen by the school board to be two of the 17 African-American students to be admitted to all-white schools.
“Feb. 2, 1959 was a day none of us will ever forget,” said Turner, “five of us stepped into Norview Junior High School while the other 12 attended other Norfolk schools. All of us were constantly taunted as well as having pebbles and sticks thrown at us and even liquids.” Turner’s homeroom and history teacher was an outspoken segregationist who intimidated her at the time, but she made it through that year and went on to graduate in the top of her class of 400 students at Norview High School in 1963.
Upon graduation, Turner moved to Philadelphia where she worked for the telephone company before beginning a 20-year career in nursing. She later switched careers. Turner had always been gifted in math . . . earning her bachelor’s degree from Norfolk State in just three years and began her teaching career in 1986 in the Norfolk Public Schools. In 1997, she received her master’s in education from Old Dominion University and after teaching at Blair Middle School for 16 years; she retired in 2008 and received her Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from ODU in 2008.
“Later on in life while attending services at First Baptist Church on Bute Street in downtown Norfolk I ran into my 8th grade teacher who was asking my forgiveness for his poor behavior nearly 57 years ago,” said Turner. “I know I confused him when I began to thank him. I thanked him for each accomplishment in my life beginning with … ‘If you hadn’t … I would not have achieved graduating high school, obtaining a nursing degree, masters degree and doctorate in education.”
The celebration also included a slide show highlighting one female Soldier, two Marines, one Sailor, one Air Force officer and two civilians following Turner’s speech. Besides being featured on DoD’s poster for Women’s History Month 2017, the slide show informed viewer’s on background information on these “trailblazing” women.
Women's History Month began as a weeklong celebration of women's contributions to culture, history and society in 1978. In 1981, Congress made it an official event, and in 1987, it was expanded from a week to a month.
As the celebration came to a close, Turner joined Kohler front and center to cut the event’s ceremonial cake. The multicultural committee hosts events throughout the year to raise cultural awareness, morale and support understanding.
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