COLUMBIA — By the start of the dedication ceremony for the new Beulah Ralph memorial at Douglass High School, there weren't enough chairs for all the people who piled into the school's gymnasium to honor her.
"This was long overdue," Douglass principal Eryca Neville said. "For someone that contributed so much so positively for so long, this was long overdue."
Educators, students and community members gathered Tuesday evening to unveil the new memorial honoring Ralph, a former longtime Columbia Public Schools employee who died in 2010.
Ralph worked for Columbia Public Schools for 58 years, and she was a secretary at Douglass for 20 years. She had graduated from the school in 1945.
Ralph created and directed the district's Home School Communicator program, a program created in 1967 to ensure a smooth transition for students moving to other district schools after desegregation.
"She was a woman of no nonsense and compassion," said Carla London, who spoke at the ceremony about the Home School Communicator program.
Ralph helped any student who had needs, regardless of his or her race, said Jim Ritter, a former superintendent and a member of the Beulah Ralph Memorial Committee.
"She was truly an advocate for the underdog," Ritter said.
Ritter starting working with Ralph when he was 27, and he always called her Mrs. Ralph. When he became superintendent, he said, Ralph said he didn't have to call her that anymore — he could call her Beulah.
"Even though she was the secretary at Douglass, she probably really ran the place," Ritter said. "She literally had an impact on thousands of students over her 58-year career."
For her work in Columbia, she received honors including the Columbia Values Diversity Award, the NAACP Roy Wilkins Award and the League of Women Voters Mother's Day Peace Award.
After the Columbia High Steppers finished their salute to Ralph on Tuesday evening, attendees headed out into the rain to see the memorial unveiled.
Ralph's daughter, Monica Naylor, who also serves on the memorial committee, pulled a sheet off the memorial, revealing a black-and-gold plaque on a stone base.
The plaque holds a description of Ralph's impact on Columbia, along with a quote from former Columbia Mayor Darwin Hindman:
"If there ever was a person who carried the zeal for fostering individual dignity, racial equality, understanding, peace-making and solving problems through non-violence, it was Beulah Ralph."
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