Val spent her youth in Gilmer, Texas and it was then that she first joined YWCA. She was 22 years old when she moved to Vancouver in 1942. She quickly became a part of the community through her church and participation in organizations such as YWCA Clark County, the Urban League or Portland and the NAACP. Through her involvement, Val extended her passion for human rights into the community. In the last 70 years of her life, she witnessed the growth of Vancouver in size and in social justice. Her efforts in the community lead to desegregation of housing, teaching, and places of worship in Clark County.
Val recognized discrimination beyond racism. Daughter, Jackie Webster thinks that may have been what prompted Val to start her work with women inmates at the jail. Most jail and prison systems in the United States are designed to address the needs of men, but by 1993 women accounted for 9.3% of the jail population nationwide. In addition to the unique medical needs of women, the majority of women in jail are mothers. Because many facilities do not take females, many are displaced from their communities, making it even more difficult for children or family members to visit. Family ties could quickly unravel without means of communication.
Along with friends Helen Bussey and Margaret Crandall, Val started the WORTH Program in 1973 to bring equality and hope to women in Clark County jail. Val’s dedication shined stronger than ever. “She truly believed in it and wanted to try and make a difference in the lives of these women,” said Jackie, who now serves as Custody Chief at the Clark County Jail. For nearly two decades, WORTH primarily supplied women with cards, envelopes, nail polish and undergarments. Val was responsible for the cards, envelopes and paper. She would bring them to the jail every Tuesday. Each woman could write two letters, and Val would take the letters back and mail them for the women. By empowering incarcerated women to write, Val opened communication lines and gave them a voice they had never known before.
Val’s dedication to eliminating racism and empowering women did not go unnoticed. She served two terms on the YWCA Clark County board of directors, was voted Board President in 1976 and is honored annually at our Community Celebration where the Val Joshua Racial Justice award is presented to an individual, business, or organization whose efforts support the mission of YWCA Clark County. The award was originally presented to Val in 1989 for her lifelong commitment to, and work for the elimination of racism. Val’s dedication to eliminating racism was exemplified in her community outreach to schools and community leaders.
In an interview for “The Center for Columbia River History’s Vancouver African American History Project,” Val shared an example of how she always “rolled up her sleeves” and went out to talk with anybody who expressed a need to learn more about racial equality:
“In the YWCA, the friend that was CEO at that time is still living, and she and I became very good friends. She started her life membership with the local chapter and anytime there was anything going on we could always gather people. One time we went down to a forest area somewhere down the Columbia River Gorge to a black girl who was teaching there. Her husband was a forester and they had three children and I can’t remember exactly what the issues were, but we went and they were having a board meeting that night and would not let us stay at the board meeting… Of course, they wanted their children to grow up in an integrated area, so she moved to Vancouver and she’s still teaching in Portland, but the husband and father lives back East. We’ve always taken an interest. Anybody that calls me and wants me to go with them to court, to a school, I will go if I’m not already doing something.”
It’s that commitment and dedication that made Val’s work in racism and at the Clark County jail so successful. YWCA Clark County will continue to honor Val annually with the Val Joshua Racial Justice Award. Beyond our humble efforts to memorialize Ms. Joshua, her legacy will surely thrive in Clark County where she reached out to so many community members personally, touched so many hearts and inspired so many with her good nature and strong values.