Local Obituaries

Teacher, civil rights activist Thalia Broudy dies at 88

Thalia Stern Broudy led a lifetime of activism on Miami Beach and Berkely California. Among her achievements: fighting to end prayers in Miami-Dade public schools, integrating diners in Miami Beach and hosting peace demonstrations.
Thalia Stern Broudy led a lifetime of activism on Miami Beach and Berkely California. Among her achievements: fighting to end prayers in Miami-Dade public schools, integrating diners in Miami Beach and hosting peace demonstrations. Stern family

Thalia Stern Broudy was small in stature, not particularly fond of politics, and she listened rather than shouted.

But the former kindergarten teacher made tidal waves in countless causes: Helping to integrate lunch counters during the civil rights era. Marching to protest the Vietnam War. Leading a group of parents in abolishing prayers in Miami-Dade schools in the famous “Bible Trial” of the early 1960s.

Broudy, who died Jan. 11 at 88, in Berkeley, California, also had a profound impact on her family, which included three daughters, one of whom, Joanna, predeceased her.

Ever inspiring, and indefatigable, she led by example. “My mom was a great listener. She actually participated in being quiet with whoever she was with and listened to what their story was … and reflected back to them. You felt, ‘I am being heard.’ That’s something she imparted to us, too. We are able to listen,” said daughter Karen Stern.

“In Miami, she taught kindergarten with [principal] Mary Ford Williams at Liberty City Elementary — the first white person to teach there — and while she was there she learned from the kids and taught us the rhythms and chants the kids would say,” daughter Laura Grossmann said.

Grossmann recalled Seders in which her mother shared stories of having marched with Martin Luther King Jr., in Washington. “She was always connecting the past to present, showing how it’s one continuum,” Grossmann said.

Over the years, the family enjoyed reflecting on the matriarch’s many endeavors, all carefully cataloged in organized, detailed files that Broudy, a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, kept.

“She was passionate about civil rights and passionate about the peace movement and individual responsibility to make the world a better place and passionate about the existence of Israel. She was passionate about music and a teacher of little kids up to the age of 86,” Stern said.

One of Broudy’s most famous endeavors was joining her first husband, dentist Philip Stern, and two other couples in filing a lawsuit against the Dade County Board of Public Instruction (the Miami-Dade Public School Board) in 1959. The parents challenged religious prayers in schools.

For attorneys, “the Bible Trial” became a sensation by 1960. Seasoned lawyers jostled to get inside to watch young attorney Bernard Mandler, who died in 2014, plead the controversial case on behalf of the parents.

After several appeals, the group prevailed in 1965 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that no public school can require prayer sessions or Bible reading.

For Broudy, born May 7, 1927, in Norfolk, Virginia, her activism came as a result of open-minded parents, Robert and Doris Yaffey, who had settled in Miami Beach for its more agreeable weather. Her concerns for the oppressed began in high school when she was living in Washington, D.C.

“I saw Marian Anderson sing at the Lincoln Memorial, when the Daughters of the [American] Revolution wouldn’t allow her to sing at the main auditorium because she was black. My mother sensitized me to the discrimination of the blacks in Washington,” Broudy recounted in an open letter to her grandchildren Anya and Jessica Grossmann in 1992.

To be a senator or representative in Congress. I was very naive, yet very idealistic.

Thalia Broudy’s response to a counselor at the University of Wisconsin when asked of her life goals.

Later, when family friend Ewan Duarte wrote a paper on Broudy, she told him that politics wasn’t her passion but she had to become involved. “I didn’t choose. I had to. My conscience, that’s all. It was a personal catharsis in a sense that I just had to stand up and do it.”

Sometimes she had to sit down to effect change, as she did around 1959 or 1960, when she took a dark-skinned friend from Costa Rica to The White Tower, a former hamburger joint on 71st Street and Normandy Isle in Miami Beach that served tiny burgers for a quarter.

“My three daughters, Lydia and I went,” she told Duarte. “The man behind the counter was really startled. He didn’t know what to do. We sat and we looked at him. He served us. I began to understand that sometimes, unless there is vicious hatred, you can really approach the conscience of people. It was a very elevating experience for me, just to sit there and to watch this man struggle with what he should do. He served us and he served Lydia. That was a turning point.”

Heads turned, too, when she and a group of six Beach parents set up a card table with pictures of their kids on Lincoln Road Mall to demonstrate against nuclear testing and warfare. “The poor police of Miami Beach didn’t know what to make of us,” she recounted.

Phyllis Resnick, a friend of 61 years, called Broudy, “above all else, a teacher, and I mean that in the noblest way possible. It was truly a calling. Whether teaching pre-schoolers how to make and love music, or teaching adults how to speak truth to power, she was an inspiration. … Her intensity of feeling drew you to her like a magnet and made you, simply made you, want to get involved,” Resnick wrote in her eulogy.

In addition to her children, Karen and Laura, and two grandchildren, Broudy is survived by her brother, Mark Yaffey. Services were held.

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen