Genevieve Houghton, a founding member of the Illinois Green Party, and an original Freedom Rider, passed away in Carbondale on October 2. She was 80.
In 1960, Genevieve became field secretary of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality). CORE was the organization which organized the Freedom Rides, where multiracial groups of passengers would ride public transportation into the segregated South. As one of the initial Freedom Riders in 1961, the bus that Genevieve was on was one of the buses firebombed by the KKK in Anniston, Alabama.
Genevieve moved to Carbondale in 1971, where she helped found The Women’s Center and became its first director. The Women’s Center was one of the first institutions of its kind in the United States, supporting survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Genevieve joined the Shawnee Green Party in the late 1990s, and when the Illinois Green Party was formed in 1999, she was one of the initial members. She was involved in Rich Whitney’s two runs for State Representative and two runs for Governor, Charlie Howe’s three runs for State Representative, and until her health kept her, Paula Bradshaw’s run for Congress this year.
Genevieve Houghton was a Green who really lived Green values. She was a supporter of Green Earth, a Carbondale-based organization that preserves natural areas in the City, and she personally maintained one of the nature trails for many years. She belonged to the Audubon Society and was especially fond of, and knowledgeable about, birds and their habitats. She supported humane treatment of animals and supported local no-kill shelters. For years, she served as a foster parent to a series of children from broken homes, opening up her own home and heart to kids who had suffered a bad start in life. She was deeply engaged in the civic affairs of the City of Carbondale and was a semi-regular fixture at City Council meetings. Her presence there helped keep our city government relatively honest and on the right track. In a system of checks and balances, she was a one-person ‘check’ — and a series of mayors and City Councils well knew that she was a person they had best listen to.
As a Green, Genevieve was a staunch member who could regularly be counted upon to attend business meetings, an activity that only our core members manage to do consistently. No arm-chair Green, she got out in the field and canvassed, joined us in parades and participated fully in the life of the party. Even when she was very ill, she managed to collect a page of petition signatures to get Paula on the ballot in the current race for Congress.
In all of this, one of the most remarkable things about Genevieve was her great sense of humor and very gentle manner of offering constructive criticism. Typically, when she had reservations about our course of action, she would begin by saying that she ‘didn’t understand’ why we were engaging in it, and would ask for someone to explain it. Someone would offer an explanation, and she would then say, ‘Oh, I see. We’re doing it because . . . .’ And then she would restate the reasoning in a way that exposed its flaws. It was a beautiful thing to see in action. And that was Genevieve, to a ‘T’.
We will miss Genevieve dearly. She left us too soon. But as was pointed out at her Memorial Service, Genevieve was a person who did the right thing, even if it wasn’t popular at the time. The best way to honor her memory is for us to do the same.