Joyce Best, a teacher, librarian, and activist for peace and racial equality, was honored on October 6, 2019, with the Ethical Society of St. Louis’s Ethics in Action Award. Joyce is a longtime WILPF member and leader, having joined the St. Louis chapter in the early 1950s and served in many leadership roles throughout the years.
The Ethical Society of St Louis, part of the American Ethical Union, has given out its Ethics in Action award since 1976, and recipients have included many prominent civic leaders and institutions. Joyce was honored as a “lifelong activist for peace, justice, and racial equality.” The Ethical Society expressed particular pleasure that Joyce was one of just a few of its own members to receive the award.
Joyce grew up in conservative rural Nebraska but was drawn to reading, literature, and progressive action from her earliest days. After she moved to St. Louis, she began working at the St. Louis Welfare Office where she met her future husband, Steve Best. Joyce and Steve became active members of the Committee on Racial Equality, and they participated in many early interracial actions for desegregation and racial equality.
Joyce worked as a teacher and then as a librarian, and because of her lifelong love of books, she particularly enjoyed choosing books for her libraries. In the 1970s and 80s, Joyce served on a state board of school librarians, who were tasked with developing a state policy for school book censorship. After Joyce retired as a librarian, she volunteered for about 10 years for the Reading is Fundamental program.
For many years, and through the present time, Joyce has handled St. Louis WILPF’s Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, in which children’s books are donated to St. Louis school libraries. Joyce has purchased the books with her own funds, and each year, at the annual meeting of the St. Louis WILPF chapter, she describes and reads from the books, with their themes of peacemaking, ethical conduct, and interracial harmony and diversity.
In addition to WILPF, CORE, and the Ethical Society, Joyce (often with her late husband Steve) was also active in the Lenz Peace Research Association and the American Youth Hostel association. They were also founding members of Freedom of Residence, an organization that drew attention to housing discrimination toward African Americans. As part of that work, the Bests served as white couples in fair housing tests.
Several of Joyce’s colleagues from WILPF spoke at the award ceremony on October 6. One of them, Jane Mendelson, concluded her remarks with these comments: “In conclusion, I have to say that this self-described ‘little girl from Nebraska’ chose a remarkable life path. Growing up in a rural community of white Christians, where she never encountered a Jewish or black person, briefly exposed to sociology in college, she chose, with her husband, to promote racial equality, peace, and justice in St. Louis in every way she could. I feel privileged to help in honoring her today.”