Black History Month: Meet Virginia Keyes Jones Coffey

Virginia Keyes Jones Coffey was born 1904 in Wheeling, West Virginia, but spent a majority of her childhood and early adulthood in Michigan before moving to Ohio to earn a master’s degree in education. In the 1920s she moved to Cincinnati and taught at the Harriet Beecher Stowe School. However, she almost left Cincinnati as a result of the discrimination and segregation.

In an interview recalling her life she explained, “segregation was a concept that was foreign to me. I couldn’t see any reason for it. It was clear some things needed to change in Cincinnati.” After being convinced to stay in the city by Theodore M Berry, (who would eventually become the city’s first African American mayor), Coffey joined the local chapter of the NAACP. She eventually left teaching and worked as the secretary and then executive director of the YWCA. In the 1940s she started the first African American Girl Scout Troop and developed a plan to integrate the YWCA. 

In 1948 she became Assistant Director of the Mayor’s Friendly Relations Committee and worked to desegregate Cincinnati. She participated in and led efforts to desegregate the city’s swimming pools. She also was a driving force in pressuring Coney Island to allow Black people to attend. Her activism led to her facing various forms of harassment. Reflecting on her experience she explained: “I got called every kind of name imaginable. But I didn’t become bitter – I never did. Just outraged that black people could be so denied, so mistreated.”

In 1968 she became the Assistant Director of the Mayor’s Friendly Relations Committee, the first African American person and the first woman to hold that position.

This Black History month IJPC is celebrating women of the Civil Rights Movement. Black women are often written out of history despite being the backbone of many of our systems of care and igniting the spark that creates movements for change. Each week this month we will highlight the work of an important Black woman activist. You can take part in this series through our email, Instagram or Facebook and we encourage you to share something you learned with a family member or friend.

About IJPC

The Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center educates and advocates for peace, challenges unjust local, national and global systems, and promotes the creation of a nonviolent society. IJPC is supported by faith-based organizations and individuals who work together to educate around justice issues, take collaborative action and do public witness. We address local, national and international concerns focusing on the death penalty, immigration, human trafficking and peace and nonviolence.