AS HE WATCHED the thousands who had gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in in the nation’s capital on Friday, the 57th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, Los Angeles Dodgers coach George Lombard thought of his mother, and all that she had done more than a half-century ago.
A couple of years before Posy Lombard committed herself to becoming an civil rights activist in the Deep South, she had taken part in the original March back in 1963. “It feels like we have come full circle,” George says. “To think, she was at the same place almost 60 years ago, fighting the same cause of social and racial injustice — and we still have so much work to do.”
Even as Lombard, 44, sees parallels between the efforts of Black Lives Matter to confront America’s systematic racism and his mother’s work during the 1960s, he feels the tug of that personal history urging him on to greater advocacy.
“I think of my mom, a white woman, doing the things that she did,” Lombard says. “She’s a person who made the best use of her life to help others. I’ve had this platform” — as an MLB player and now as a coach — “and I never have used that opportunity to make other lives better.”
Following the killings of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and George Floyd in Minnesota, Posy Lombard’s middle child had begun what George’s older brother, Matt, calls a process of “self-reflection and discovery” — as he seeks to take the full measure of her extraordinary life. And in June, when this story about Lombard’s mother was published in the Los Angeles Daily News, Lombard sent it to newly arrived pitcher David Price. “David wrote me back right away to say that my mother’s a badass,” Lombard says..
Price encouraged Lombard to tell his story to the rest of the team, which he did in the Dodgers’ social justice Zoom meetings. “Him sharing his story about his mom and his family, what his mother stood for and how she went about it … I think that opened a lot of eyes on our team,” Price says. For Lombard, it also opened a window into his past, one that he had kept shut for decades. “George really got emotional during a couple of the calls [while talking about] the sacrifice his mom made,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts says. “To hear people say, ‘Now I hear you, I’m listening’ — those things are really important.”
For Lombard, it also opened a window into his past, one that he had kept shut for decades … a past with his mother that evokes pride, but also pain. “I lost a lot of the connection to the history of her experience, because it never was told to me,” George says. “So it’s been brought to me in pieces through my own searching and conversations with people. I just didn’t know … how deep she was involved.”
Sharing his mother’s story was the first step in his Lombard’s own journey. The protests, in sports and in the nation as a whole, over the past week have inspired him to keep telling it. “To see athletes in all the different sports leagues standing up and forcing conversation is a huge step,” he says.
As George Lombard is discovering for himself, Posy Lombard dedicated her life, in ways great and small, to bringing an immediate and total end to racism in America. The need for that work continues. Even as he amplifies his mother’s efforts as a means of finding his own voice, George Lombard is learning more about what she did, how she lives on in the victories she achieved, and why her work remains unfinished today. “We thought that so much change had happened,” he says. “Has it really changed? That’s what’s sad and disappointing. You might not see lynchings, where somebody is hanging from a tree, nowadays — but the George Floyd incident was a modern-day lynching.”
ROSAMOND L. LOMBARD’S scrapbook chronicles — in black-and-white photographs, colorful drawings, newspaper clippings and personal keepsakes — the life of a well-off, well-educated, well-loved young person who grew up in the Boston area during the late 1950s and ’60s. Documented alongside the family letters and crayon-scrawled cards — HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO DADDY FROM POSY — are images of dressy weddings and graduations befitting the daughter of a Harvard Business School dean; her progress as a field hockey standout; and her work at a camp for children with disabilities, all annotated in Posy Lombard’s lively handwriting.
The scrapbook swerves from the personal to the political once she enters Smith College, where she was influenced by the activism of art professor Elliot Offner and his wife, Rosemary. Lombard went on to earn a congressional internship in Washington, D.C., and attend a civil rights conference featuring Malcolm X and Howard Zinn (whose book “A People’s History of the United States” would later be a key influence on Colin Kaepernick). Undocumented in her scrapbook, however, is a conversation that might have changed the course of Lombard’s life — when she answered a phone call not intended for her.
“I was calling very late at night,” recalls Worth Long, now 84. “I was surprised that someone was up that late.” It was 1963, and Long was working for the civil rights organization SNCC — the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee — and had dialed the pay phone at Hopkins House, a Smith residence, looking to talk to another student about booking SNCC’s performing group, the Freedom Singers. Instead, Posy picked up. They bonded immediately while talking about the movement.
The privileged white woman from New England and the middle-class Black activist and HBCU grad who’d never been north of Harlem might seem to have had little in common. But they would remain in each other’s lives ever after: getting arrested together, being surveilled by the FBI … and looking after each other’s children in times of crisis. They would meet for the first time outside the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Lombard’s D.C. internship had earned her access to the floor — but “Posy donated her credentials,” Long says, to members of the renegade Mississippi Freedom Democrats, a group of progressives who were trying in vain to be seated as their state’s delegation instead of the segregationist party regulars, which led to a raucous floor fight.
It was a “wild, noisy and exciting experience,” an exhilarated Posy would recount in her scrapbook. She had no idea then how many more of those lay ahead for her, standing as she was on the cusp of a defiantly unconventional life.
In 1965, when Lombard was a senior at Smith, she and her friend Junius Williams drove from Massachusetts to Alabama after seeing demonstrators, including a 25-year-old John Lewis, beaten on Bloody Sunday at Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge. Selma was her initial destination. “But James Forman, one of Martin Luther King’s right-hand men, asked my mom and a group of students to stay in Montgomery and protest there instead,” George says. SNCC was opening a “second front” to put added pressure on law enforcement and Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace. Posy and her friend agreed to stay “even though they knew it was very dangerous,” George says.
At a sit-in on March 18 in front of the state Capitol, Lombard, Worth Long and 70 other demonstrators were arrested for “failure to obey lawful police order” — an order from local police chief Drue Lackey, who had fingerprinted Rosa Parks the day she was arrested — and taken to Kilby Prison because the local jails were full. Lombard’s mug shot was shared across the Deep South. News of her incarceration galvanized Smith College. Three professors sent Posy a telegram that invoked Massachusetts’ two U.S. senators and a congressman: WE ARE BEHIND YOU. WE’VE LET KENNEDY, SALTONSTALL AND CONTE KNOW THAT THEY SHOULD BE, TOO. Her family could have easily covered the $100 bail … but using white privilege on her own behalf was never Posy Lombard’s way. “There were times when she was in jail [and] could’ve got bailed out and she chose not to,” George says, “because she wanted to suffer the same pain as everyone else.”
Lombard was released on March 25, as King entered Montgomery, where his speech electrified the crowd: “How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” For Posy Lombard, bending that arc would be her life’s work.
“She saw something that wasn’t right and lived her life to address it,” says her youngest child, Rosemary (Lombard) Murrain. “There wasn’t any glory there.” When she returned to Smith, she urged her classmates that April to take up the cause in the Deep South, telling the Sophian, the student newspaper: “There is more to be learned down there about ourselves, our country, our values and our life … than in years and years of schooling.”
After graduation, Lombard returned to the South — this time, to the city of Natchez, Mississippi, where she protested, picketed, community-organized, taught … and was arrested and jailed at least twice, all in pursuit of full equality for Black citizens. “What I remember about Posy is the work she did,” says Dr. Robert Fullilove, now a professor of public health at Columbia, who earned $9.46 a day working for the SNCC alongside Lombard that summer. “‘How do we sustain what we’re doing? How do we keep folk motivated?'”
“Even years later,” says Jim Kates, now an author and the president of Zephyr Press, then a student at Wesleyan who’d also come to Natchez that summer, “it is very, very, very difficult to explain the sense of constant fear in which we lived.” (That fear was a day-to-day reality for Black residents in Natchez, who were subjected to state-sanctioned brutality and racist intimidation.) The front windows of the activists’ house faced onto Franklin Street — or once had, because they’d been shot out by racist nightriders. Kates remembers colleague Richard Hall trying to sleep on the sofa underneath the windows and singing “we shall all be killed” to the tune of “We Shall Overcome.” Hall, a former African American studies professor at UMass, would write a novel about that summer titled “Long George Alley”; a character apparently inspired by Posy Lombard is described as “an oak tree wrapped in pink tissue paper.”
The documentary “Black Natchez” shows Lombard picketing on Main Street, carrying a sign that read “We Demand Fair Hiring Practices” — and giving a smile of acknowledgement to James Jackson, a Natchez barber who’d formed the Deacons for Defense and Justice, a secret society created in part to oppose the Ku Klux Klan. “To have a white woman there … was hugely significant,” Fullilove says. “And it was symbolic, because everybody knew, ‘Girl, you don’t have to be here. You don’t have to be going through all this stuff.’ Especially when it got nasty.”
It would get nasty on the afternoon of July 18, 1965, when Lombard, Fullilove, Kates and a dozen or so others got into their cars and headed for Duncan Park, where they planned to integrate the city’s whites-only recreational area. “That’s what much of the movement’s activity in the South looked like: challenging the culture of segregation,” Fullilove says. But according to FBI files, waiting to intercept Posy and her fellow activists at the park were members of the Klan. “A car pulls up in front of them, and the guy driving acts like the car is broken down,” George Lombard says. “Well, the guy was the grandmaster of the KKK and responsible for some horrible things. It made you realize the danger she put herself in.”
The man didn’t remain in the car. He and several other men got out, and Lombard saw one of them being handed a small pistol. Kates remembers that at least some of the men were holding baseball bats. A tense, simmering standoff ensued. “There were three cars blocking the entrance to the park,” Posy told the FBI, “and 15 or 20 white men standing around the cars.” The men yelled at the activists; local police who arrived at the scene made no attempts to intervene. “It was really quite frightening,” Fullilove says. “I thought, ‘We’re gonna find ourselves involved in the kind of violence that could really, literally prove to be deadly.'”
After 15 minutes, the activists gave up and returned home. But the ugly scene of intimidation proved to be a victory for the larger movement by spurring wider support. Two days later, Bob Dylan released “Like a Rolling Stone,” a defining song of the era, in part an excoriation of a privileged young woman confronting life’s harsh realities. Posy Lombard was no such dilettante. “The simple fact that [she was] there, and that [she] never wavered,” Fullilove says, “that had a level of importance and meaning that is very much a part of what we’re seeing today.”
After NAACP chapter president George Metcalfe was critically wounded by a car bomb in Natchez on Aug. 27, 1965, Black residents of the city were determined to responded with direct action. Their attempts to negotiate were turned away by a government that chose escalation and rank intimidation. The National Guard was called in, and uniformed soldiers patrolled Black neighborhoods with fixed bayonets. Lombard was among the hundreds who gathered at churches in Natchez during the first week of October, planning to march against segregation and obstruction of voting rights. Instead, the protestors were rounded up, arrested and bused to the state penitentiary at Parchman, where they were subjected to mistreatment and abuse so infamous it would become known as the Parchman Ordeal, a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement.
Packed into cells where they could hear their male counterparts being beaten, the female prisoners were forced to partially undress while guards force-fed them Milk of Magnesia — causing gastric distress, humiliation or far worse. Lombard talked about the experience for a Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party report. “We had probably eight or nine people in the cell,” she said. “We were told to take off shoes and stockings and any outer clothing … so most people were left with pretty flimsy dresses on. They continually threatened us and forced some of the women to take more than one cup of that medicine. Later on, they came down to the cells … and picked out girls and made them drink another cup or two of Milk of Magnesia. And then they scarcely gave us any toilet paper, so we were using bread and biscuits to wipe ourselves with. … Most of the women were sick and very scared.”
Posy Lombard was, by one account, “the only white woman there.” One of her cellmates overheard a prison official demand of Lombard, “Why are you in here with all these n—–s anyway? Because you’re free to do anything you want to do.”
LOMBARD’S SOCIAL JUSTICE work continued. By the mid-’70s, she had started a family on a farm outside Atlanta, raising her three children while also working as a union organizer and teacher. “You have my mom from a very privileged white family in the Northeast,” George says, “and then you have my dad from a dirt-poor family in south Georgia. I always say I had the best of both worlds.” His father, Paul Williams, worked at a GM plant and would see the children on the weekends. “My parents were never married,” George says. “My mom thought she could raise three biracial kids all by herself.”
Posy forged an idyllic childhood for George and his siblings. “One of the things about my mom,” Rosemary says, “is that no matter where we were or which world we were in, it was always a nurturing place of love for her.” Each summer, they’d head north to Cape Cod, where the Lombard paterfamilias had a 10-bedroom mansion on 13 acres. “Being with her, walking on those rocky beaches, finding little treasures,” says George, recalling some of his favorite memories of that time. “Just the hug, the smile, the warmth she had.”
But in August 1985, when George Lombard was nearly 10 years old, his grandfather took Posy for a drive. The two were in Falmouth, traveling east on Dillingham Road, when, police said, the 74-year-old went through a stop sign at Gifford Street. Another vehicle collided with their car on the passenger side, where Posy was sitting. Posy was taken to Cape Cod Hospital. George and his siblings were flown back to Georgia. They never saw their mother again. Six days later, on Aug. 29, 1985, Posy Lombard died. She was 41.
“You wish there’s a way that you could have said goodbye,” George says, weeping at the memory three and a half decades later. “That’s probably the hardest part.”
George and his siblings found themselves sitting in a courthouse, forced to answer wrenching questions: Who do you want to live with — your aunt, your uncle? Do you want to change your name from Lombard to Williams? “My brother was the one that really spoke up,” George says. They would remain where they were. “My dad divorced his wife and moved into our home,” recalls Matt, who was 11 at the time. “And things changed dramatically.”
Lombard, who is married with two children of his own now, realizes that his quest to learn about his mother’s life has exposed him to feelings that he had tamped down for decades. “We needed psychological help,” George says. “When you lose a parent, there should be somebody there to talk to; we didn’t have that. So that’s why I’ve never really talked about it.”
Rosemary now manages a nonprofit that works with communities in pursuit of psychological trauma relief. She says she didn’t cry immediately after her mother’s death. “I have large gaps in my memory, big chunks of time from that period that are very hard to remember,” she says. “I understand this now because of my work. That happens when you experience a trauma.”
Three weeks later at the dinner table, 7-year-old Rosemary asked her brothers, “When’s Mom coming back?”
“I was really missing her, and I started crying,” Rosemary says. “Matt brought us around … and we did a group hug. And he just said, ‘She loves us, and she’s watching over us, and she’s here.'”
Sports would become their outlet. “That’s the one thing that took the pain away for a little while,” George says. Rosemary was a high school basketball phenom; Matt played soccer and tennis. After Worth Long’s wife died of lupus, Posy had volunteered to help raise his daughter; after Posy’s death, Long took her kids to Goodwill to buy them sports gear. By 1993, George Lombard was the top-rated football recruit in the state of Georgia. A running back with speed and uncommon grace, he became a Parade All-American alongside Peyton Manning and Tony Gonzalez. “He was so agile, it was like watching somebody dance,” Rosemary says. George committed to the University of Georgia.
“But we were struggling [financially],” George says. “I remember getting a car repossessed, times when the [lights] were going on and off.” So when George, who had also played baseball in high school, was drafted in the second round of the 1994 MLB draft by the Atlanta Braves and the team offered him $425,000 to sign, well, what would anyone do?
“One day, Matt went to see him play,” Paul Williams says. “He told Matt, he said, ‘If I don’t hit a home run tonight, I’m going to college next week. If I hit a home run tonight, I’m going to stay and play baseball.'” He homered, and “that’s how he wound up playing baseball,” Williams says.
“I chose baseball — [and had] no idea what I was getting into,” Lombard says. “I hit a buck forty my first year [in the minors], but I was always the fastest kid on the field. And some really good coaches turned this potential into a promising young player.” He would spend six seasons in the majors, including one with the Detroit Tigers in 2002. The Tigers visited Fenway Park to face the Red Sox, which allowed George to play in front of his mother’s side of the family. “I hit a home run to dead center — one of the cooler moments in my career,” he says.
After the game, Lombard gave the ball to his grandfather.
WHEN HE GAVE Posy Lombard’s eulogy in 1985, Andrew Young — a civil rights legend and then the mayor of Atlanta — would tell her children, “You guys don’t even understand how powerful she was and the things she stood up for.” After she died, Long says, “the society lost an example of how someone from even a privileged background can use that background, and the knowledge from that experience, to serve others.”
Yet her legacy continued to inspire — and, as George notes, it would come full circle. Rosemary would intern at the congressional office of Rep. John Lewis, who remembered her mother. “He’d talk with us about our hopes and dreams,” Rosemary says. “It was powerful for someone to really be with you even though he was doing such big things.”
Years later, Matt Lombard, now an attorney in Los Angeles, would obtain 300 pages of FBI files about their mother, showing that the bureau had kept Posy Lombard under surveillance. “Chronicling legal activity, wasting resources on someone who is a part of a much larger movement, much larger than her?” Rosemary says. “When I think about it, the fear of Black people having rights? It’s a total waste.”
This summer, after he and his family marched for justice in Scottsdale, Arizona, Price had another message for his coach. “He texted me again later that day: ‘George, I just wanted to let you know that my family and I did a peaceful protest in honor of your mom’s name,'” Lombard says. “I told my wife it was my greatest moment as a coach. I was almost in tears.” More than a half-century after Posy Lombard first drove to Alabama, George Lombard had used her example to bring a new generation into the streets. “I can’t tell you how many shapes, sizes, colors, religions, ethnicities — however you identify, everybody was out there,” Price says. “We were together as one, and that’s the way it needs to be.”
Last October, Natchez erected a tribute to its civil rights-era heroes. The Proud to Take a Stand monument honors 486 people who endured the Parchman Ordeal. There, on the 6-by-12-foot black granite slab, is the name of Rosamond L. Lombard.
“There’s still families that remember the things she did,” George says. John Jackson of Lowndes County, Alabama, is from one of those families. When Posy lived in the Freedom House his father, Matthew, owned, John remembers her working to get Black citizens the tools they needed to run for local offices, putting real power in their hands. “Her most important project was encouraging people and teaching them: What does a person on the board of education do? On the county commission?” Jackson says. “Posy knew how to treat people, knew how to respect people. It was really something to see people, white and Black, come together to educate our people.”
Posy’s efforts in Alabama were successful. Five Black sheriffs were elected in Lowndes County, Jackson says, and two Black citizens won seats on county commissions. And then, in 1978, John Jackson himself became the first Black mayor of White Hall.
None of this appeared in Posy’s scrapbook. Instead, when she became a parent, she created three new scrapbooks, one for each of her children, employing the same homespun flourishes — the crayon scrawlings, the clippings, the keepsakes — to celebrate not her adventures but theirs: Matt’s … and Rosemary’s … and George’s. They were chronicles of each child’s life, but after her death, they would be something more: indelible records of a mother’s love. As he embarks on his journey of self-discovery and advocacy, George Lombard treasures a silkscreen that his mother — both activist and artist — created, its three imperatives the foundation of her remarkable life: To love, we must survive; to survive, we must fight; to fight, we must love.
Those words — and his mother’s legacy — have helped George Lombard forge his own path to advocacy.
“I think she would have been proud to see people standing up for what they believe in,” he says. “But I think she would have been well ahead of the curve in understanding that there still needs to be a lot of change.”
Additional reporting by Zachary Budman.