November 9, 2007
Corinne Owens honored by NAACP
Two days after her 95th birthday, Racine treasure Corinne Owens was honored Friday night at the NAACP's Freedom Fund Dinner.
The organization that she helped start 46 years ago celebrated her legacy by announcing a new college scholarship in her name. It also gave the Racine community another opportunity to acknowledge Owens' long-standing efforts to fight for the underserved and oppressed in Racine.
But for all of her accomplishments in bringing fair housing and civil rights to Racine, Owens' greatest works may have been the day-to-day acts that never made the papers. She routinely brought strangers into her home to give them a place to stay. She mentored, and continues to mentor, community leaders. She inspires countless others.
"If I can do it, you can do it," Owens said during a recent interview with the Insider News (Click here to read that story in the Insider.)
George Stinson, of Racine, is among those touched by Owens' efforts.
"I've learned from Corinne to be tenacious in what I'm doing, to stay at it," said Stinson, the owner of General Converters and Assemblers in Racine. "Corrine is a stay-at-it person. 'No' was not an answer. She thought 'no' meant come back later."
Beverly Hicks, president of the Racine NAACP, said Owens embodied determination. She not only overcame racism throughout her life, she was a leader at a time when women struggled to be heard.
"When I first met her, men were definitely at the helm of things," Hicks said. "Seeing her at a position in an organization, such as NAACP president, certainly had an impact on my life. It showed me women too can do the same things men are doing."
Owens moved from Louisiana to Racine in 1946 to be with her husband, Burse Owens. She had taught in the Louisiana Public School System for 13 years before coming to Racine. But when she got here, she was told by Racine administrators there was no place for black teachers in their schools.
It would take 23 years before Owens was allowed back into the classroom. She was hired in 1969 as an elementary school teacher. In 1971, she became the first woman and the first African American on the Gateway Technical College board of directors.
But Stinson said Owens' greatest accomplishment was helping countless people find a place to stay, either by changing city laws or putting them up in her own home.
"Corinne was the person you went to for housing in Racine," he said.
She was the person, because everyone knew she would see a situation through to its resolution. That's her legacy: Living a life that refused to accept difficulty.
"I haven't met anyone with more determination than Ms. Owens," Hicks said. "She showed me that you don't back down, you go for it. That's why she's made it as far as she has. It's the strong determination that she has."
Posted by RacinePost Editors at 8:27 PM