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Nominee takes on KKK with tennis racket

posted Feb 9, 2018, 11:28 AM by Wayne Wieseler   [ updated Feb 9, 2018, 11:33 AM ]
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Ralene Hearn

Ralene Hearn who took on the KKK with a tennis racket is one of the 2018 nominees under consideration to be enshrined on the Sebastopol Living Peace Wall.

Ralene Hearn was born in 1949, the oldest of five siblings, in a segregated neighborhood of Jackson, Mississippi. After Hurricane Camille destroyed their home in 1969, Ralene and her husband, whom she met on the high school debate team, relocated to New Orleans, Louisiana, where she became deeply involved in the Civil Rights movement and battled the Ku Klux Klan.

Growing up when segregation was a part of everyday life, Ralene knew from an early age that something just was not right. After the devastating impacts of Hurricane Camille, it became clear to her that something needed to be done after she witnessed discriminatory practices among federal hurricane relief efforts. She and her husband testified in a Congressional Hearing in defense of many black people who did not receive the same federal aid and disaster relief loans that white people received.

The situation arose in 1979 when one of her black students, Willie, told her he wanted to play tennis on the whites-only court, as the “colored person” court was unfenced and riddled with potholes. Yes, there remained many segregated communities after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, especially in the Deep South. Ralene grabbed some tennis rackets and marched with Willie to the whites-only court and played tennis when a large crowd began gathering, mostly KKK members. They had their guns drawn and threatened to kill Ralene. They even called her husband at work to tell them they were going to kill her. Ralene and Willie thankfully survived, and Ralene and her family were under federal protection for some time afterward.

After that incident, Ralene began writing her state representatives to take action against her neighborhood’s KKK group. Her hard work finally paid off as civil rights lawyers were sent to a “city council” meeting that was actually a KKK meeting. This eventually led to arrest of some Klan members and disbandment of the group.
Of the situation, Ralene writes, “That was one tennis match the town would never forget.” Her memories of the incident live on forever, commemorated in song: “The sugar cane plantations bear the sadness of a nation, the pain of segregation for too many years. We cried and cried together as we tried to make things better. Louisiana is soaked in our tears”.

A true believer in education, Ralene went on to receive her bachelor’s degree in Media, and her Master’s Degree in Speech Communications. Ralene also spent many years as a traveling musician, the only female in an all-male band, opening for bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival and Doobie Brothers. After a debilitating car accident and the passing of her beloved husband, she made Sebastopol her home. She frequents the Sebastopol Area Senior Center, attends many of the classes, and volunteers at the Senior Center playing music.

Thank you Ralene for all you did and all you continue to do to bring love to your community.

~ By Katie Davis and Richard Ruge