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Making a difference ... behind the scenes

By Billy Corriher

Ruth Ashe said that even though she's been retired from her job as a school teacher for years, she hasn't begun to rest yet.

"I don't know how to sit still," she said. "Some days I think it's time to slow down, but then something else happens and I get involved."

Ashe, 65, is the only employee, the office manager, of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP in Atlanta. She's also been the secretary of the Clayton chapter of the NAACP since 1991 and is an active member of Shiloh Baptist Church in her hometown of Jonesboro.

After she retired, Ashe said the series of church bombings that shocked the country in the mid-1990's motivated her to do something more.

Ashe said that was when she started working with the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, traveling to Alabama, South Carolina and other states to talk to people and collect information on the bombings.

"I kind of became a ?jack of all trades,'" she said. "That's how I really got into the workings of the NAACP."

Before the bombings, Ashe had served in various capacities in NAACP organizations in Clayton County and in her former home of Butts County, where she raised her two daughters.

Ashe said she started to get involved locally with the civil rights struggle after learning about what was going on all over the South.

"You see it on television and you get really excited and want to do something," she said.

"I can remember the most?just the brutality of it all. It's things you remember that stay with you," she said. "You wander how you can get through this."

Ashe said she can recall segregation everywhere, in doctor's offices, bus stations and in schools.

"I never wanted my children to experience those things that were so degrading," she said.

Ashe pushed for change through her position in the local Georgia Teacher's Association, fighting for economic equality in her home county.

"We were very vocal in Butts County," she said.

Aside from her reputation for challenging the system in the community, Ashe said her third-grade students might have also given her a reputation as a stern teacher.

"They started to send the tough boys to my class," she said. "I tried to let them know I could be their friend, but I'm in charge."

Ashe said she moved to Clayton County in 1981, and became involved with the local NAACP through other members at Shiloh Baptist Church. Her habit of sticking to the rules and being organized led to many of her fellow NAACP members encouraging her to take an active role.

"I think people push for me in these situations because I don't mind doing the work," she said.

Today, Ashe is the office manager at the Georgia State Conference, and though she was only hired to work five hours a day, she said it usually doesn't work out that way.

"Seldom do I work five hours a day. There's just too much to do," she said.

Ashe answers calls and complaints from different NAACP branches across the state and coordinates events for the organization.

Walter Butler, president of the Georgia conference, said her work for the organization is indispensable.

"We keep her very busy," he said. "She goes far beyond what we ask her to do."

Butler said Ashe is a great representative for the NAACP, and she's known throughout Georgia for getting things done.

Ashe said the biggest challenge she sees for the majority-black Clayton County is getting more minorities in government positions and mobilizing them to vote.

But Ashe said the local NAACP is starting to see results from its years of work in the county.

"I think we've progressed a lot more than we had when I moved here," she said. "There's a lot that needs to be done, but there's a lot of people coming forward to get involved."