Gladys Rawlins, ‘Black History Profiles,’ Part III
Gladys Rawlins demonstrates the Green Circle Program. It is used in some York County schools. She is buried in Lebanon Cemetery in North York. Background posts: Mildred and Russell Chapman, Part I and Roy Borom, Part II
Gladys Rawlins is internationally known as the founder of Green Circle, the educational program that promotes racial understanding.
But it’s not as widely known that she stayed in York County for extensive periods and is buried here… .
Gladys Rawlins is part of a large group of black people with York County links who have achieved on the local and national stages. The York Daily Record/Sunday News has developed profiles and published them in the daily and in Newspaper in Education publications for distribution to York County schools.
(If you’d like a copy, e-mail me your address and I’ll mail it out.)
The profile on Gladys Rawlins that originally ran on Saturday, May 4, 2002, follows:
Gladys Rawlins spent much of her life outside of York, but it’s where she chose to be buried.
Just a handful of York residents went to her funeral in 1999 when she was laid to rest with relatives in Lebanon Cemetery on North George Street in North York.
Wicki Woerthwein of Springfield Township saw Rawlins’ obituary in the paper and decided to go to the funeral. Although she had never met Rawlins in person, she knew enough about her to want to attend.
“It mentioned Green Circle in the obituary, and so then I knew it was the Gladys Rawlins of Green Circle,” she said. “I had no idea she had any connection to York.”
Green Circle is an educational program that aims to help racially diverse children learn more about their cultures and the cultures of their peers.
Its method is simple. Think for a moment of a time you were unsure of yourself, but friends included you in their group. Remember how great that felt. Now recall a time when you were excluded. Remember how painful that was.
Think of a time you excluded someone else. Think of how that person may have felt.
Rawlins was a social worker and member of the Race Relations Committee of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends (Quakers). She developed the Green Circle Program in 1957, according to an article by the Philadelphia Daily News in 1999.
In the 1960s, the Philadelphia Board of Education called on Rawlins to expand the program she had begun in Quaker elementary schools to public classrooms, according to a Green Circle program brochure.
By 1999, the program reached 49 states.
Woerthwein first heard of the program in a Quaker meeting in 1972. She said the program’s appeal was its simplicity. Before long, Woerthwein was a facilitator of the program, going into York County schools and shar ing its message with kindergarten to third-grade students.
At Rawlins’ funeral, Woerthwein, who is secretary for the York chapter of the NAACP, came to learn that Rawlins had spent extended vacations in York with her cousins while growing up.
“Her whole program was to bring people together,” Woerthwein said. “So it’s really interesting that she ended up in a segregated cemetery by her choice.”
Although a few people attended her funeral in York, more than 250 people gathered for a reception honoring her life of service in Philadelphia a year before she died, according to the Philadelphia Daily News.
At the reception, a speaker told the 94-year-old Rawlins, “Green Circle’s greatest strength is its sincere and respectful honoring of the children’s experiences and feelings, which has resulted in widespread recognition of the fundamental honesty and basic values of the human relations program for people of all ages,” according to the Daily News.
For what is this person best known?
Rawlins is best known for developing the Green Circle Program.
“Through the Green Circle Program, she has impacted . . . thousands and thousands of children,” Woerthwein said.
Woerthwein said she has seen that impact first-hand as a facilitator of the program. She said she has seen Rawlins’ simple message of understanding diversity change kids by making them more aware and compassionate.
“The children share, too,” she said. “They’ll go home and ask their parents about their culture and their roots.”
Who or what was her inspiration?
“I think it was the fact that she saw other people having problems,” Woerthwein said.
Woerthwein said that Rawlins, as a social worker and member of the race relations committee, saw that Philadelphia was divided by racial issues. She wanted to help white children and black children get along and talk to each other, Woerthwein said.
How did Rawlins affect York County?
When Woerthwein attended Rawlins’ funeral, Rawlins’ relatives didn’t realize how big the Green Circle program had become. But as Rawlins’ program spread from Philadelphia back to York, it has affected hundreds of York County children, Woerthwein said.
As a facilitator of the program, Woerthwein said she could see York County children’s pride in their own culture grow and their awareness of other cultures expand as they participated in Green Circle.
The program is now in many York County schools, Woerthwein said.
What would this person think of York County today?
“I think she would be very pleased to know that the Green Circle Program is still here in York County schools,” said Woerthwein, adding that she hopes race relations in the county continue to improve.
Died: 1999 at her apartment at Foulkeways, a Quaker retirement home in Philadelphia. She is buried in Lebanon Cemetery on North George Street in North York.
For a wealth of information on black history in York County, see: http://www.ydr.com/category/blackhistory.