Bertha Elizabeth Shepperson (née Earley), 88, received her eternal award on June 1. Bertha was born March 2, 1934 in Prince Edward County, the daughter of Emerson Earley and Susie Earley (née Lyle) and the first of nine children.
Bertha grew up and lived most of her life in Prince Edward County and graduated from Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville in 1952. She lived and worked in New York for many years after high school. Bertha returned to live in Virginia in 1970 and then began working for the Virginia Department of Corrections, from which she retired after more than 30 years of service.
After her retirement, she and her two sisters, Deloris and Carolyn, organized local events and she also worked part-time at a group home for the mentally handicapped.
Bertha also did a lot of volunteer work in the community after her retirement. She was a foster parent and for years volunteered as a delivery driver for Meals on Wheels and as a foster host at Centra Southside Community Hospital. She participated in various other community councils and civic activities.
While a high school student, in 1951, Bertha participated with her classmates in a walkout and strike at the separate Robert R. Moton High School in Farmville to protest substandard resources and conditions. Following the strike, she joined as a named plaintiff in the federal lawsuit, Davis v. Prince Edward County, calling for an end to segregated schools. This case was later consolidated with others, resulting in the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which marked a watershed moment in the early civil rights movement in America. Illustrating Bertha’s humility, she always credited others for actions taken in 1951. However, she was interviewed in 2004 about the school walkout and related events and was featured in front-page stories in the Boston Globe and the Wall Street Journal. That year, she and her classmates were invited to a commemoration of 50 years since the Brown Decision at the White House, where she had the pleasure of meeting the President and First Lady Bush.
Bertha was a life member of New Bethel Baptist Church. She was also a good and generous soul, always there for others. She was much loved by immediate family, extended family and friends, many of whom knew her as “Aunt Bertha”. She loved spending time with each of them. Many younger generations admired her and described her as a “legend” or the GOAT Bertha was particularly proud of her only daughter L’Tonya; her son-in-law, Tim, and her grandchildren, Joshua and Rebecca, who know her as “Nana”.
Bertha was predeceased by her parents, Emerson Earley and Susie Earley (née Lyle); brothers, Joseph (Joe) Earley, Lawrence (Jake) Earley, Truman Earley (sister-in-law, Deloris) and nephews, Phillip and Brian Earley.
She is survived by her daughter, L’Tonya Tobin (Tim); grandchildren, Joshua and Rebecca Tobin; brothers, John Earley (Marlene), Frank Earley (Barbara) and Vincent Earley (Shirley); his sisters, Deloris Earley and Carolyn Tucker (Archie); sisters-in-law, Harriett Fentress and Josephine Earley and many nephews, nieces and cousins.
Funeral services were held Tuesday, June 7 at 11 a.m. at New Bethel Baptist Church, 14167 Farmville Rd. Meherrin, Virginia 23954.