U.S. Representative Alma Adams honored Ella Scarborough on the floor of the U.S. House on Wednesday for her life and role as a political pioneer in Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and North Carolina.
Adams called Scarborough his friend, a pioneer and a “sincere, genuine, humble servant of God, always on the lookout for the least of them”.
Scarborough, 75, died on May 24 after taking leave from the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners due to ill health. Scarborough’s health continued to deteriorate and the commissioners named an interim replacement.
“Ella’s loss is immeasurable in part because she was a veteran of the civil rights movement from her youth in South Carolina,” Adams said. “The awareness and conscience of this movement has been seen in his work as a pillar of our community that has fought for our vulnerable and marginalized.”
Adams said Scarborough works for equality and equity for black Americans as well as literacy and public education for homeless people and youth.
Adams told her colleagues that Scarborough graduated from South Carolina State University, a historically black university; was the first African-American woman elected to the Charlotte City Council and the first to chair the Mecklenburg County Commission. She was also the first black woman to run for mayor of Charlotte.
“His leadership opened doors and inspired others,” Adams said. “She encouraged other black women to run and serve, but Ella was the kind of person who was more concerned with the work she was doing than the history she was making.”
Adams told colleagues that the entire Scarborough family was involved in the civil rights movement. She is the great-grandniece of a renowned civilian and female leader Mary McLeod Bethune.
“Overcoming adversity and integrating separate spaces is something she has done since the day she was born,” Adams said.
Scarborough was born premature and weighed just 3 pounds. Adams said at the time babies weren’t guaranteed incubators and had to fight for themselves, but her father convinced a Charlotte hospital to admit his daughter to the intensive care unit .
“She became the first black baby in this space,” Adams said. “Maybe this miracle was the reason why she had never been afraid.”
In 1963, Scarborough helped bring a segregationist movie theater into its community.
In 1968, she tried to do the same at a bowling alley in Orangeburg, South Carolina.
“This time the activists weren’t so lucky,” Adams said.
She detailed how South Carolina Highway Patrol officers fired into crowds of students, including Scarborough friends, killing three and wounding 28, in what became known as the Orangeburg massacre. .
“Ella was pulled out of harm’s way by a member of the football team,” Adams said. “It’s a blessing that Ella was spared that day to continue her fight.”
Lessons from Scarborough
Adams said the greatest miracle of Scarborough’s life was counting his blessings and extending them to others. As a result, people from all walks of life benefited – from the Scarborough church congregation to the public she served in her tenure.
“Blessings are not just ours to have, but to give,” Adams said. “This is the lesson I hope we can all learn from Councillor, Commissioner and Chair Ella Scarborough as we honor and remember her today.”
This story was originally published June 8, 2022 12:21 p.m.