A mother who wouldn’t die until her fight was finished

Posted Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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sanders Some names that most likely come to mind when listing great African-American women are Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Mary McLeod Bethune, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer and Texas’ own Barbara Jordan.

While you can probably think of many others, one name in particular should be added to that scroll: Ruby Cole Session.

Mrs. Session, a mild-mannered but determined woman who made her mark as a mother and educator, was among the first 25 black women to graduate from Texas Christian University.

When it came to her children, she not only provided for them and protected them, she proved she would fight for them if they couldn’t fight for themselves.

Her greatest battle of all was the one she waged for her son, Timothy Brian Cole, a Texas Tech student who was falsely accused of rape in Lubbock in 1985, convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Tim, who continued to proclaim his innocence, died behind bars in 1999 after an asthma attack.

I shall never forget the day she showed me a letter for Tim that arrived at her home about eight years after his death. It was from another prisoner who assumed that her son had been released because he we was no longer listed in the prison system.

The prisoner, Jerry Wayne Johnson, admitted that he was the attacker in the case for which Tim had been convicted — something he had been trying to tell Lubbock County officials for years.

It was with that letter, and DNA testing, that the Innocence Project was able to prove Tim had been wrongly convicted. A state district judge officially exonerated him in 2009.

But Ruby Session was not satisfied with simply clearing her son’s name. She was destined to liberate him, even after death. There was no way she was going to give up, no way she was going to lie down and die, until Tim was given a full pardon. Gov. Rick Perry finally granted that request, the first posthumous pardon in Texas history, in 2010.

Mrs. Session, who privately and publicly forgave the victim for mistakenly identifying Tim as the rapist, then turned her attention to changing laws that would help other wrongly convicted individuals and perhaps prevent others from becoming victims of a justice system filled with injustices.

With much of her work done, Mrs. Session died Oct. 10. Last weekend she was buried next to her son, just a short distance from the state historical marker that tells his story.

Attending her funeral was an array of public officials, including state Sen. Wendy Davis, state Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas, Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Brooks, Fort Worth City Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray and Lubbock Councilman Todd Klein, who told the audience that his city is planning to erect a memorial to Tim Cole.

During the service I was reminded of the parable Jesus told his disciples about the widow and the unjust judge, in which the widow repeatedly goes to the magistrate seeking justice, but is continuously denied. Finally the judge, who said he feared neither God nor man, gave in just so he wouldn’t have to deal with the persistent woman any more.

That’s the way Ruby Session was. “No” was never an acceptable answer. When the Legislature turned her down, she’d go back and ask again. When the governor resisted, she kept demanding he do the right thing. They eventually had to give in to this unrelenting mother.

She fought against the odds and won, not just for her son, but for all of us.

Ruby Cole Session went to her grave having left our justice system much better off than when she first encountered it.

And she left here knowing that the name Tim Cole is now forever a part of Texas history, forever engraved in Texas law, forever a symbol of justice triumphing over injustice.

Bob Ray Sanders’ column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775 Twitter: @BobRaySanders

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