Juanita Goggins

[Note: This post was written five months ago, but I must have forgotten to click “publish”. I’d like to have it on the blog, even though her death is now old news, if only to help record a courageous life.]

I was saddened to learn about the lonely death of Juanita Goggins, a great leader and educator. Her life is a reminder of both the possibilities we have and the great challenges we still face around race in America.

Goggins was the daughter of a sharecropper in rural South Carolina, the youngest of 10 children, and the only one to earn a four-year college degree, from what was then all-black South Carolina State College. She taught in South Carolina’s segregated schools, and then went on to a number of major achievements.

In 1972, she became the first black woman to represent the state as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. Two years later, she became the first black woman appointed to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and the first black woman elected to the South Carolina Legislature. She was responsible for funding sickle-cell anemia testing in county health departments and sponsored key legislation on school funding, kindergarten, and class size.

One indication of the world she had to navigate was the Orangeburg Massacre. In February, 1968, students from Goggins’s alma mater attempted to bowl at Charlotte’s only bowling alley. The owner refused. Tensions rose and two days later violence erupted. The Orangeburg Massacre resulted in injury to 28 students and the death of three.

Sadly, by the early 1980’s, Goggins had developed mental illness and in later life became increasingly reclusive. She froze to death at age 75, living alone in a rented house not far from the Statehouse in Charlotte, where she had served.

See Once-revered lawmaker freezes to death alone (Associated Press, March 10, 2010).

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