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The Price One Pays

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Consequently, Harrison's words were the ones most often quoted in the local paper; her voice was the one heard at meetings. And it seemed to some that the more she spoke, the more militant she became. "Linda is very strong and very ambitious,'' says Julia Hagan, Cabell County school board president. "She seems to get things in her mind and in her heart and not be able to lighten up and relax about them. For a long time, Linda couldn't focus on anything but advancing women in the system, no matter what.''

Harrison ended up paying a price. Since she was the one sticking her neck out, she had to bear the brunt of the attacks from the opponents of her cause. "People felt threatened,'' she recalls. "And they came at me because I was the only one on the firing line. I was called a castrating female, a bitch, a man hater, bra burner, radical, troublemaker, malcontent. It was very hurtful.''

During the fight, she lost weight and couldn't sleep, and she says she spent a lot of personal time and money sending packets of information to people throughout the county who were afraid they would lose their jobs if they expressed their support openly.

Even though the controversy has ended, Harrison's reputation, for good or ill, still precedes her. While attending an elementary school luncheon long after her equity battle had ended, an assistant principal made a confession. Harrison explains: "He took my hand and apologized. He said that all this time he thought I must have had a tail and horns.''

But there are still those who have little sympathy for Harrison. When it came to name calling, for example, Hagan alleges that Harrison was dishing it out as well as anyone. If Harrison's reputation is tarnished, she says, then it's Harrison's own fault. As Hagan puts it: "My grandpa used to say, 'When you burn the blister, you're going to have to sit on it.'''

Current school superintendent Jerry Brewster says that he personally didn't witness any unprofessional behavior on the part of Harrison. He believes that the issue of equity was sidetracked by a personality conflict between Harrison and former superintendent Robert Frum and that there was fault on both sides.

Even active supporters of her cause admit that Harrison's style is sometimes abrasive. Says NAACP leader Nathaniel Ruffin: "Personally, I don't know if I could have tolerated her character if I were her administrator.''

But Ruffin, like many others, believes that over all, Harrison's actions were admirable. He says: "There are lots of people who receive awards in America who are not very well liked but have to be admired for the stand they took. I admire Linda for her stand.''

--M.K.

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