Loretta Howard was “brought up” to be a racist. Her maternal grandfather was a member of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and proudly displayed a
portrait of Nathan Bedford Forrest in the living room. Howard’s grandfather claimed to have participated in several lynchings in Rutherford
County, Tennessee, during the 1930’s and 1940’s.
In 1982, at age of 36, Loretta Howard was abandoned by her husband of twelve years. With two children to raise, she was forced to enter the work place. Her first job as a cosmetics salesperson was short-lived. She then took a job as a shipping clerk at Shelbyville Printing that produces newspaper advertising inserts.
During her swing-shift dinner breaks, Loretta Howard developed friendships with her African-American co-workers. Her friend Mary Ellis, who had children the same age as the Howard girls, began inviting Loretta to join her at church and to attend family gatherings. Through their growing friendship, Loretta Howard began to confront her racist past.
In 1992 Loretta met Mary’s father William Ellis, who was a freedom rider with Rev. Martin Luther King in 1960 and witnessed Dr. King’s August 28, 1963 “I have a Dream” speech. Inspired by William Ellis’ story, and out of shame for her own racism, Loretta Howard conceived of the “Inter-racial Rag Doll Friendship Chain.” The piece began as a fifth grade Sunday School craft project. Adding to this project, Loretta created a compelling statement for tolerance and racial harmony. The completed work was carried in the 1995 Reverend Martin Luther King Day March in Nashville.
The rag doll friendship chain came to the attention of the Spelvins at a church rummage sale. Loretta sold the piece to the Spelvins when they made a generous contribution to the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama, a non-profit organization that combats discrimination through education and litigation.
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