Neomah was born in 1932, during the Great Depression, in the segregated city of Little Rock, Arkansas. She learned early on what it meant to survive. She graduated from Scipio A. Jones High School and received a diploma and certificate of merit from Johnson Business College in 1949. Two years later she became a part of the Great Migraton, a period when millions of African Americans left the South looking for freedom and better lives.
She landed in Los Angeles where she found work as a secretary. Not long after she moved to L.A., she joined the NAACP Youth Council where she became active working for civil rights. Thurgood Marshall was the Chief Counsel for the NAACP at the time and had succesfully won the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case in 1954. However, desegregation still had to be put to the test.
In 1957 after nine African American school children integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Neomah was given the task to interview them for the NAACP Youth Council newsletter. After talking to the children, she learned they had suffered from much trauma. They had been separated into different classrooms and received death threats. This made her realize the enormity of the barriers they were up against. She also had the opportunity to meet Thurgood Marshall (who later became the first African American Supreme Court Judge). He inspired her especially because he was fighting for Blacks to have the right to integrate universities. Later in life, Neomah made regular contributions to the United Negro College Fund.
Neomah was asked by television writer Ferdinand Leon to do the Little Rock Nine interviews. Ferdinand later invited her to a party where she met her husband Larry in 1957. After marying in 1958 she and Larry had 2 children Laureen and Eric. Over the ensuing years, she and Larry not only raised their 2 children but she also became a member of the Mayor’s Community Development Advisory Committee, member of the Board of Directors of the Hollywood Leadership Council as well as a member of the League of Women Voters.
Her proudest contribution came during her service on the Los Angeles County Grand Jury from 1973-74. During this time, she heard testimony from a number of Watergate defendants who had connections to L.A. County. For example, she heard from the White House “Plumbers“ who were accused of ordering the break-in at the offices of Daniel Ellsburg’s psychiatrist and the theft of some of his files. Jurors also heard cases related to organized crime. In addition, she was a member of a two person team who investigated the condition of 50 convalescent and board and care homes. During a Wenatchee World interview she said,“I would like to feel that the Board of Supervisors did take a closer look at these facilities as a result of our work“. Most disheartening for her were investigations into child pornography.
In fact, by the end of the year, she was frustrated, tired, and wanted a change. She and Larry started discussing options and came up with a plan to leave L.A. The family had visited the Olympic Peninsula in 1971 and enjoyed it. So Neomah and Larry decided to tour the Northwest in search of a new home town. They decided on Wenatchee and constructed a house which they rented for a few years until Larry found a way to retire early eventually relocating permanently in 1983.
Neomah did not forget her roots. In 1991, she curated “Symbolic Selections“ at the North Central Washington Museum. For this exhibit, she managed to acquire artwork from African American artists living all over Washington. In 1992, she did the research for a Wenatchee World article about some of the area’s early African American residents. She also took pride in the fact that the Scharps family purchased 25 seats for the Performing Arts Center, a place where they enjoyed many performances from their preferred seats in the balcony.
Neomah is survived by her daughter Laureen and son-in-law Gernot (Germany) and was preceeded in death by her husband Larry and son Eric. Her family wishes to thank the caring staff of Highgate Senior Living and Hospice.
A Celebration of Life will be planned for a later date. Those who wish to make a memorial gift in Neomah’s name can donate to either The Numeric Performing Arts Center or the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center.
Arrangements by Jones & Jones Betts Funeral Home and on-line comments