Marion Wright Edleman, leader of the Children’s Defense Fund, once commented, “Service is the rent we pay for living.” A life dedicated to helping others not only pays the rent for our time here on earth, but leaves a lasting legacy. Sedalian Christina Richards, whose life was dedicated to service, left a lasting example that provides inspiration for all those who followed her.
Julia Christina Diggs was born in Fayette, Missouri, in 1899, the daughter of William and Annie Diggs. The family experienced loss; the 1900 census reveals that Mrs. Diggs had given birth to 10 children, but only four were living. By 1910, the family had produced 12 children, but only three were living.
In 1910, the family was living in Sedalia, where Mr. Diggs worked in a grocery store. He also raised and sold fresh vegetables, according to his daughter. Mrs. Diggs was self-employed as a laundress. The family lived on Cooper Street. Two children lived at home; George Leslie worked as a laborer on a farm, and Christina was at school.
Mr. and Mrs. Diggs wanted their daughter to have a better life than they, and in the early years of the 20th century, Sedalia offered good opportunities for education for African-American children. Christina attended Lincoln Elementary School. As Lincoln School gradually added high school classes to its curriculum, she attended Lincoln High School, where she was a one of the six students, all girls, to graduate from the school’s first four-year high school program.
Christina was musically talented. A photograph of Lincoln School’s shows her as a member of the girls’ quartet. When she attended George R. Smith College the fall after high school graduation, she was chosen as part of the girls’ quartet there. In 1919, the Girl’s Quartet from George R. Smith College posed for a photograph with college president Robert Hayes and music teacher Mrs. Ward before they departed to sing at the Methodist Centennial. In a national competition, the quartet placed first among female ensembles and fourth among all musical ensembles.
In addition to attending George R. Smith College in Sedalia, she attended Pittsburg State Teachers College in Kansas, Central Missouri State College (now UCM) in Warrensburg, and the University of Missouri in Kansas City. She was a teacher, working in elementary and secondary schools in Oklahoma and Missouri. She also taught Adult Basic Education classes at State Fair Community College.
Mrs. Richards was active in many activities, including, but by no means limited to, the Methodist Church, the Eastern Star, the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, and the American Association of Retired Persons. In 1988, she was honored with a National Community Service Award by AARP for her contributions to the community. Some of her activities on behalf of senior citizens included helping to organize Meals on Wheels, serving on the Pettis County Agency on Aging, and attending twelve years at Silver-Haired Legislative Session, a meeting with members of the Missouri General Assembly to consider issues facing older adults.
Next week’s column will continue a tribute to Mrs. Richards, another member of Sedalia’s black community whose life mattered.
Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society.