Miami Dade College (MDC) professor and civil rights activist Renee Kilpatrick and 1940s baseball star Luisa Gallegos represent very different cultures and professions. Yet each has made a distinct mark in history and inspired generations of women who followed in their footsteps. Recently, they were both honored at the annual Women’s History Month luncheon at the InterAmerican Campus (IAC). The theme this year was education and empowerment.
Born and raised in Albany, Ga., Prof. Kilpatrick came of age amid segregation and Jim Crow laws in the Deep South. In high school, as the civil rights movement pushed forward, she was part of the first African American class to integrate an all-white high school. She also took a part-time job at a local grocery store, where she became its first black cashier and at first patrons refused to go through her lane. Through college, she participated in marches and lunch sit-ins, some of which resulted in jail time.
“It was a harsh time, but it was also a learning time,” Prof. Kilpatrick said. “I did not realize at the time that I was making history.”
Prof. Kilpatrick moved to Miami 21 years ago and teaches English at MDC. The “country girl” who dreamed of being a teacher since the first grade said she still cries at every graduation ceremony.
“As educators, we are empowered to make a change, not just in the lives of our students, but also the lives of each other,” she said.
Decades earlier, Gallegos was paving the way for women in sports. The Havana native began playing street baseball with men when she was 12 years old. She got the attention of a local scout who put her on his team.
In 1943, as many young men headed to war, the All American Girls Professional Baseball League was founded in the U.S. Gallegos was among a group of Cuban women picked to play in the League. She played for the Peoria Redwings and the South Bend Blue Sox.
“The newspapers said she was a great outfielder, fast around the bases and had a powerful arm,” said Marino Martinez, an El Nuevo Herald sports writer who recently chronicled her story.
Gallegos is in the Cuban Sports Hall of Fame and is among the female baseball players honored at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY. In 1992, the film A League of Their Own also paid tribute to the women.