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Jerry L. Nichols-Scott, dead at 84, fought for civil rights

Jerry L. Nichols-Scott, wearing her trademark butterfly jewelry. | Family photo

Jerry Scott wanted her daughters to be exceptional, to be of service and to be brave.

She named them Robnyece’, Zaldwaynaka and Obyrietta.

Together, they helped integrate schools and Girl Scout troops in Louisiana, where Mrs. Scott assured her daughters she could get to them quickly if there was trouble. She and her husband enrolled them in schools near expressways in case of an emergency.

After moving to Chicago, she mentored young women through her sorority, giving girls lessons on table manners and what used to be called comportment. She wanted them to carry themselves with confidence and the knowledge that they had every right to be in whatever room they were in. She became a mother figure to many, including attorney Andrea Zopp.

Jerry L. Nichols-Scott. | Family photo|
Jerry L. Nichols-Scott. | Family photo|

“My mom passed away in 2007, and she just stepped in for me at many events,” said Zopp, who’s been tapped by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to be deputy mayor. “I would look out in the audience, and Mrs. Scott was there.”

Mrs. Scott supported Zopp during an unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate. From her hospital bed, “She sent me a video right before the elections, the primaries, to tell me she loved me,” Zopp said.

Mrs. Scott, 84, died April 14 from pancreatic cancer, according to her family.

She was born in Shreveport, La. Her father, Jerry, worked in an oil factory. Her mother, Julia, was a maid.

Jerry and her husband, Obie Scott. | Family photo
Jerry and her husband, Obie Scott. | Family photo

She was valedictorian of Shreveport’s Central Colored High School and went on to Bishop College in Marshall, Texas, earning a bachelor’s degree in three years to save tuition costs for her parents. Later, she received a bachelor’s in education from Grambling State University and a master’s in library science from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

In 1954, she married math teacher Obie B. Scott. They started raising a family while the Jim Crow South was still strong.

At the movies, “We sat in the balcony while everyone else sat on the first floor,” said Mrs. Scott’s daughter, Zaldwaynaka, known as “Z” Scott. “I remember one doctor, it was a dermatologist, who wouldn’t let us come in the front door. And an eye doctor. They had a back room where the African-American patients had to sit.”

Mrs. Scott demanded that they be allowed in the front, saying, “She was paying the same money that everyone else was paying,” Scott recalled. “All of a sudden, we weren’t going in the back door anymore.”

In 1967 — 13 years after the Supreme Court’s historic Brown vs. Board of Education ruling — the NAACP and the Scotts helped integrate schools in Caddo Parish, La. Z Scott, about 9 at the time, said: “She told us just to be brave, and if she needed to, she could get to us.”

Some whites left school. “Children wouldn’t play with us,” Scott said. “People called us n——.”

She said her mother “had us join the Girl Scout troop. We went all the way. She moved us to the white troop.”

Mrs. Scott became one of the first African-American librarians in the Shreveport schools.

In 1971, the family moved to Chicago, where Obie Scott had a job with the Department of Commerce. Mrs. Scott worked as a librarian at Stowe and Smith grade schools and Collins and South Shore high schools.

Mrs. Scott grasped that her daughters didn’t want to look “country.” So she got them Converse gym shoes and heavy sweat socks and let them take the ribbons from their hair.

“She didn’t tolerate excuses, poor performance or laziness. Bad report cards were a bad idea,” said Z Scott, an attorney and former executive inspector general for the office of the governor.

Robye Scott became a human resources consultant.

After retiring, Mrs. Scott kept busy with volunteer work at New Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, her AARP group and the Theta Omega chapter of her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. She’d call her church friend Barbara Cannon and say, “Get your calendar out.” Mrs. Scott collected clothing and cooked meals for the homeless, organized health fairs for seniors and visited nursing homes.

“We were road runners,” Cannon said.

Mrs. Scott loved the plays of August Wilson and the writing of Shakespeare, Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou, Robye Scott said.

Jerry Scott went on every college tour and drop-off for her grandchildren. | Family photo
Jerry Scott went on every college tour and drop-off for her grandchildren. | Family photo

She ended every conversation with “Love you more.”

By plane or car, she went on every college tour and drop-off for her six grandchildren.

She always wore jewelry with butterflies — usually a pin on her left shoulder.

“Butterflies meant freedom to her,” Z Scott said.

“We all wore butterflies to the funeral,” said Bertina Power, president of her Theta Omega Chapter Seniors group.

Mrs. Scott, whose husband and daughter Obyrietta died before her, is also survived by a sister, G. Jeane Nichols. Services have been held.

Jerry Scott and her daughters, Zaldwaynaka (standing) and Robnyece’. | Family photo
Jerry Scott and her daughters, Zaldwaynaka (standing) and Robnyece’. | Family photo