Erma Nordquist (AKA Mom)

My mother always cared about race relations. When she was 17, which was about 1941, she got an A grade for the final exam paper in “Racial Issues in Our Democracy,” a summer course at the Keuka Summer Assembly taught by Rev. Charles Boddie. Here’s a link to tell us about Rev. Charles Boddie: Celebrating our Leadership Heritage in Black History Month: Part II – ABCUSA (

Of somewhat further interest that I discovered going through my mom’s mom’s old post cards and letters is a news clipping from the Utica Observer-Dispatch about the 1945-46 meetings of the Women’s Federation of the First Baptist Church of Herkimer, NY in which she (my grandmother – Mrs. Walter LaFayette) is listed as the president, and in particular that month of April was presenting a program called “A Visit to the Belgian Congo.”

Therefore, I reached the conclusion that my mother’s awareness of the problems in America and the world regarding race relations was simply a matter of Christian awareness and education carried on from her Christian multi-generational family conscience.

A few years before my mother passed away, I became interested in tracking down ancestors on my mother’s side and as we discovered she is a descendant of Miles Standish, the professional soldier hired by the pilgrims to be in charge of defense, without whom it can be argued that the pilgrims would have been wiped out by the local Native Americans. Read the very good book, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War Hardcover – May 9, 2006 by Nathaniel Philbrick Surprisingly, the last chapter is named “Conscience,” which was the Christian name of an old Indian who was one of the last to surrender in King Phillip’s War.

The local newspaper wrote this about her when she passed away.

Erma Nordquist_Glens Falls, NY NAACP Photo

From left, Erma Nordquist, publicity chairman for Glens Falls NAACP branch, Roy Thomas, president, and Mildred Jackson, youth member, prepare to distribute a housing survey to about 7,000 area residents in April 1969. Nordquist, a cofounder of the Glens Falls NAACP branch, died March 14 at age 89. (Photo courtesy Glens Falls NAACP branch)

GLENS FALLS — The Post-Star reported on Feb. 8, 1967, that Erma Nordquist would appear on the WGY radio program “Voices of the Living Church” to discuss her resignation as chairwoman of the social action committee of the Glens Falls Area Council of Churches.

Nordquist said she was resigning and recommending the committee be disbanded because it had accomplished its mission of raising awareness of race relations.

She said local churches could use their resources more effectively by contributing to the newly formed Glens Falls NAACP branch, of which Nordquist was the founding secretary.

“A new stage in race relations in our area has now been reached,” she said. “We have brought the matter to the attention of many people and real progress has been made, at least, in the local confrontation.”

Nordquist, who died March 14 at age 89, was the woman local NAACP members always turned to for the history of the local branch, said Lee Braggs. vice president of the local NAACP branch.

“We weren’t around. We didn’t know about it,” he said. “She provided us with that.”

Nordquist, in a 1999 Post-Star interview, said that prejudice in Glens Falls in the 1960s informally segregated most blacks who lived in the city to a single neighborhood near Glens Falls Hospital.

“It was a soul-rending time,” she said in the 1999 interview.

The homes and apartments in the neighborhood were mostly torn down as part of the city’s Urban Renewal program in the 1970s.

The efforts of Nordquist and her committee gained momentum when, in April 1966, 350 parishioners of Glens Falls churches in conjunction with the annual “Brotherhood Sunday” activities, signed a “Fair Housing Pledge” agreeing to “welcome as a neighbor any responsible person (to the community) without regard to race, color or creed.”

Richard Bartlett said he and his mother, a nurse at Glens Falls Hospital, read news reports about Nordquist’s efforts and became charter members of the local NAACP.

“When I got out of law school and came back here, mother told me that she had just read about a survey that indicated that blacks had trouble buying or renting property in certain sections of the city,” he said. “She thought that was terrible. It was through that we got involved in the NAACP.”

Bartlett, who later served as a state assemblyman and a state judge, said Norquist was a very spiritual person.

“She was a quiet person. But she had very strong determination,” he said.

Nordquist was a longtime member of the First Baptist Church of Glens Falls and helped start its nursery school, according to a Post-Star obituary.

She and her husband also hosted children through the Fresh Air Fund.

Bartlett, George Champion, who worked for many years at the Glens Falls Civic Center, and Roy Thomas, the city’s former community development director, are the only three charter members still living, Braggs said.

In the 1960s, whites such as Nordquist, Bartlett and local clergy worked with blacks such as Champion and Thomas to launch the organization, he said.

“To be honest with you, if it wasn’t for the non-African American people, there would be no NAACP in Glens Falls,” he said.

Today, membership in the local NAACP still is about 50 percent white and 50 percent black, he said.

Braggs said Nordquist stayed active with the NAACP and consistently attended the branch’s scholarship galas held every two years.

“It wasn’t just a one-and-done deal way back then,” he said. “Erma was still active and participated as much as she could, up until the time she left this earth.”

[PS Listen to Erma’s Yoga audio tape made during her early years as a yoga teacher.]

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