Virginia Steele, age 83, formerly of
Santa Rosa and Berkeley, CA, died Saturday, September 9, 2006 at Friends
Care Community, Yellow Springs, Ohio. She was born in Alderson, West
Virginia, the 7th of eight children of Robert and Mamie Beckett Steele.
She received a B.S. from the U. of Pittsburgh and a Master of Library
Science from U. of California-Berkeley and taught many years in the
Berkeley Public Schools.
In 1964, responding to her friend Robert Moses’ call for volunteers to
join the Freedom Summer project to register disenfranchised Black voters
in Mississippi, she and two other volunteers drove her VW bus from
Berkeley, California to Oxford, Ohio for several days of non-violence
training. One of her passengers, who became a life-long friend until his
death, was Mario Savio who later was a leader of the University of
California-Berkeley, Free Speech Movement. They left Oxford, Ohio for
Mississippi shortly after the murder of civil rights workers Cheney,
Schwerner and Goodman.
As the only librarian volunteer she was assigned the responsibility of
creating “Freedom Libraries” from the thousands of books shipped to Black
communities from northern donors. (African Americans in Mississippi were
barred from public libraries.) Black children eagerly helped in packing
and transporting the books to stores, barber shops, service stations and
other public places. These young helpers dubbed Steele’s Volkswagen bus
“The Freedom Bus”.
In 1974 she purchased an abandoned mountain farm adjacent to the
Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia, near Hillsboro, and spent
the summers there writing and enjoying local events. Her articles were
published in Wonderful West Virginia and Goldenseal. She encouraged the
development of, participated in and subsequently became a generous
benefactor of High Rocks, a year-round leadership development program,
located on her farm, for rural high school girls. Its summer outdoor
program is named Camp Steele in her honor.
She is survived by her sister, Mary M. Morgan, of 540 Ridgecrest Drive,
Yellow Springs, OH 45387, 4 nieces, 1 nephew and many Quaker friends. She
donated her body to The Anatomical Gift Program at Wright State University
Medical School. Memorial gifts can be directed to American Friends Service
Committee, 1501 Cherry St., Philadelphia, PA19102 or High Rocks, HC 64,
Box 438B, Hillsboro, WV 24946.