She ‘dared to stand up for women of color’

April 28, 2022 | by Kathy Gilbert

She ‘dared to stand up for women of color’

DeLaris Johnson Risher doesn’t look, act or talk like a trailblazing, fearless woman — but she is.

In 1952, she and Leila Robinson Dabbs, both Black women, quietly integrated Scarritt College for Christian Workers in Nashville, Tennessee, two years before segregation in education was ruled unconstitutional. Dabbs died in 2002; Risher is 92.


The official naming of the Johnson Robinson House on the now Scarritt Bennett Center campus in Nashville honored both women April 2 and kicked off a yearlong campaign called “It’s Always a Time for Radical Change” to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the college.

Risher led the ribbon-cutting along with Dabbs’ relatives.

At the time the women entered the college, segregation was being heavily enforced to the extent that not just imprisonment, but the lynching of African Americans had occurred in Tennessee only a decade before, according to research done by the Scarritt Bennett Center. 

The Ku Klux Klan had a public office just a few streets away from Scarritt in what is now Nashville’s famed Music Row.

“It has been a wonderful opportunity to research the storied history of the college and continue to discover all its golden treasures. These two women, who dared to stand up for women of color 70 years ago, richly blessed the history of this institution,” said the Rev. Sondrea Tolbert, executive director of Scarritt Bennett Center.

Risher, a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., was also honored at a reception of the Nashville chapters of the sorority on March 31. 

“DeLaris is strong and confident, yet gentle in spirit, with a delightful sense of humor,” said Celinda J. Hughes, co-chair of the reception sponsored by the Nashville Metropolitan Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. “Sitting and talking with her was like being at her kitchen table with a gracious lady and lifelong friend.”

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Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service. Heather Hahn, also United Methodist news writer, contributed to this story. Contact them at (615) 742-5470 or To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.