Eleanor and Bernard Charles used to sit at their Spring Valley home discussing ways to help out minority college students.
One day, Seymour Eskow, the first president of Rockland Community College, told Bernard, or Bernie as most call him, that he appreciates all the work he was doing.
“But the person who is the glue and the one who makes things work,” Eskow told Charles, “is Ellie.”
Charles said he knew exactly what Eskow meant.
“One day, the community is going to recognize Ellie as the glue, the link that tied everything together for you and for the community,” Eskow told Charles.
Once again, Charles agreed.
“That’s so true,” he said.
On Thursday, Charles and his late wife Ellie were both recognized by the community, more specifically by the Rockland Community Commission on Human Rights and the Rosa Parks Human Rights Center, when they were two of five people inducted into the at a ceremony in Stony Point at Patriot Hills.
Bernard Charles was the first African American councilman in the Town of Ramapo and a former Rockland County legislator. Eleanor Charles worked her entire life to champion civil and human rights for all, and did so as a community leader, teacher, patron for arts and as a businesswoman.
During his acceptance speech, Charles said he was honored to be inducted along with his wife.
They were inducted by Hillburn Mayor Bernard Jackson.
“If someone had told me when I came to Rockland County back in 1958 that one day I’d be the mayor of a village, I would’ve laughed at them,” Jackson said. “So many of you that I’m looking around at in this room, that I’ve met since I’ve been in Rockland County, we wouldn’t be sitting here if it hadn’t been for people like Bernie and Ellie Charles.”
Shortly after Jackson moved to Rockland, he met Bernard Charles and talked about how people treated Charles.
“Whereever he went, whether people liked him or disagreed, they had to respect him,” Jackson said. “I saw that was a better way of channeling that young crazy energy. Over the years, I watched and observed what he was doing.”
The others inducted on Thursday were William “Bill” Darden of Spring Valley, Bernice Glass of Nyack, and Laurence “Lonnie” Holland of Orangeburg and Stony Point. This was the ninth hall of fame inductions. Rockland’s Commissioner of Human Rights S. Ram Nagubandi said the group sends out a letter each year when they’re accepting nominations, and then a committee votes on them.
Darden’s award was presented by his niece Yvette Inzar, of Pomona.
“Bill had passion to share his knowledge, encourage children to grow and helped give voice to those who would otherwise be unheard,” Inzar said. “While he was at Pomona, Bill, along with fellow colleagues, spearheaded the English As A Second Language, also known as ESL, program in (the) East Ramapo Central School District. He was a member of the grant writing team and wrote the curriculum for ESL science for grades seven through nine.”
After retiring from teaching, Darden was elected to the county legislature, where among other things he worked to make sure former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall was recognized. His efforts led to a monument in Sloatsburg and the naming of the Thurgood Marshall Room in the Rockland County Courthouse.
“Bill was soft spoken, a great listener and you know what? He said what he meant and meant what he said. Bill Darden, my uncle, was simply a class act,” Inzar said.
Glass’ award was presented by Constance Frazier, a retired superintendent of schools in Orange, N.J.
“Bernice was a formidable presence in the lives of many African Americans who migrated from the south to the north in the late ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s and 80’s who settled in the Nyack community,” Frazier said. “She was best categorized as a proactive prolific champion of civil rights and equal opportunity in the following areas: education, jobs, housing and voter registration. Bernice helped folks make a way out of no way, and if you came from the south at that time, she always had a meal for you, she would give you a job and she always had a place for you to sleep.”
Glass’ award was accepted by her daughter, Fannetta Glass-Miles.
Holland’s award was presented by Rev. Louis Sanders, of the St. Charles A.M.E. Zion Church in Sparkill. He said that Holland started out his career at Lederle Laboratories, now Pfizer Laboratories in Pearl River, where he was one of the first African American scientists hired for the company.
After he was hired, Holland would pass out applications and encourage young people to apply for positions with the company. He would then follow up to see if the application was turned in and how it went.
“Lonnie was just a marvelous guy, always concerned about humanity, always reaching out to see where he could help,” Sanders said. “He had a great passion and love for young people, always encouraging them.”
Holland’s award was accepted by his wife Rose.
At the beginning of the ceremony, County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef talked about the work of the honorees and why they were being honored.
“Although a number of them are being honored posthumously, this is not about the past in as much as it is about the future because we honor these people for their past works with an eye to the ills that our society faces today,” he said. “So the importance of this luncheon is, yes, to indeed recognize people who have given their lives so that others might walk a fairer, better, more just society. But it’s not precisely just to have them get an award for what they did, it’s for what they mean to us going forward. They are the mentors.”
He said there is still prejudice and discrimination in Rockland.
“We are not done,” Vanderhoef said. “Their work -- as wonderful, as meaningful, as important, as productive as it was -- was merely a sample for us to move forward.”