The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. schooled Lynda D. Woodruff in nonviolence.
It was 1962, and she was one of the first two black students to desegregate Lynchburg’s E.C. Glass High School. Woodruff recalls spit landing on her shoes, students bumping her, calling her names.
Just weeks earlier, King, the civil-rights icon, had come to Lynchburg and told Woodruff not to strike out. But there were times when she longed for a physical confrontation.
“I wish they had just punched my lights out,” Woodruff says, “bruised me for three or four days and I had healed.”
E.C. Glass High was named for Edward Christian Glass, superintendent of Lynchburg Public Schools from 1879 to 1931. Woodruff and Owen C. Cardwell Jr. - now pastor at New Canaan International Church in Henrico County - were among about black 20 students who volunteered to enroll.
“When the rubber hit the road, only four of us persevered,” Woodruff recalls.
Woodruff and Cardwell had the added burden of arriving at the beginning of the second semester.
“The worst thing you can do to a child anywhere, any time is to transfer him in the middle of the year,” Woodruff says.
When they arrived at the school that January day, their new classmates stared down from every window. Entering the school, Cardwell - her friend all through childhood - stepped aside and allowed her to enter first.
“Never before then had it ever occurred to him to treat me with that kind of courtesy, dignity and respect,” Woodruff says, laughing at the memory.
They had planned to meet for lunch, but there were two dining areas and they ended up separated, Woodruff recalls. “We were terrified . . . we had no idea what had happened to the other person.”
Cardwell, too, recalls the uncertainty he felt when, after morning classes together, he and Woodruff parted. “Lynda looked a little reluctant,” he says. “As a 14-year-old boy, I had to put on that macho image, but I was just as afraid as she was.”
He said the two black students had little sense of the history they were making. “We were just kids who wanted to go to school,” he said.
Woodruff and Cardwell could not use the city’s whites-only city library. Woodruff’s father, who managed a railroad mail car that ran from Charlottesville to Washington, checked out books in Washington. Some whites helped - loaned books to Woodruff or checked them out of the library for her.
Woodruff would go on to earn a Ph.D., become a professor, establish a graduate department of physical therapy at North Georgia College, and become a leading expert in the field. She retired from teaching and has her own business, Rehabilitation Specialist of Atlanta.
She says she will remain active.
“Now,” she says, “I can raise hell because I don’t have any restraints.”