Sarah Howard, who at 15 rode a bus from her Alabama hometown to New York in search of a professional education, and later pressed the Huntington school district to hire black educators in support of its African-American students during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, died Thursday at Huntington Hospital.
“Oh, she was a fighter, she was,” said fellow Huntington community activist Paul Johnson. “We lost a few but we won a few, and she gave them hell. She had a son and a daughter in the schools, and anything that was happening, she was there.”
Howard, 88, died of cardiac arrest, family members said.
The daughter of an Alabama preacher whose family would help organize the Selma to Montgomery March, Howard came north, and eventually enrolled at the Brooklyn State Hospital School of Nursing. There, she met fellow nursing student Isaac Howard, and the two married after graduating from the program in 1950.
The couple built a home in Huntington in 1957, and both eventually worked in leadership positions at Pilgrim State Hospital, in Brentwood. She retired in 1983.
Howard’s concern about how her two young children were being educated and how non-white residents were excluded from political power propelled her into community activism.
She joined Huntington’s Lincoln School parent-teacher association in 1959, and served as treasurer from 1960 to 1964. Her activism expanded in the 1970s, when she held various leadership positions with the Black Parents Council of Huntington, which pressed the district to integrate its faculty.
Johnson credited Howard with helping to persuade the district to hire its first black teachers and a black assistant principal, and to begin including references to black life in classrooms.
Howard also advocated for the 1989 election of District Court judge Peter Newman, now retired, Huntington’s first black District Court judge.
Survivors include her son Thomas Howard, of Huntington Station, daughter Valerie Howard, of Melville; a sister, Ethelstine English, of Brooklyn; and two grandchildren. Her husband, a World War Two veteran, died in 1998.
Sarah Howard’s funeral will be at 11 a.m. Thursday at Evergreen Missionary Baptist Church, one day before what would have been her 89th birthday. Burial will follow at Calverton National Cemetery.
Johnson said he was glad that Howard — who survived Ku Klux Klan intimidation in her native South, and had overcome resistance to black empowerment after moving North — was able to see the fruits of black activism during her lifetime.
“She lived long enough to see the first black president and the first black judge in Huntington,” Johnson said. “So her living was not in vain.”