GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. — Guilford County Commissioner Carolyn Coleman died Wednesday night surrounded by her loved ones, county officials confirmed. She was 79.
She led a life of civil rights activism and engagement.
"Coleman, most known for her firebrand activism goes back to Savannah, Georgia where she was among the first of three students arrested in the sit-in demonstrations. She dedicated her life to challenging issues of racial inequities," county officials shared in a press release about Coleman's passing.
She served on the NAACP National Board of Directors and was involved in activities with Greensboro's Branch of the NAACP. She played an instrumental role in the beginning days of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum.
Coleman was first elected to the County Board of Commissioners in 2002. She served nearly 20 years representing District 7, the Pleasant Garden community and Eastern Greensboro.
In 2005, she made history when she served as Guilford County's first African American Chairwoman of the Board of Commissioners.
Coleman recently received the North Carolina Association of Black County Officials' Fredrick Douglas Award for her efforts during the pandemic. She helped facilitate the County's Feeding the Communities Program which provided 8,000 food boxes to families in need between December 2020 and July 2021.
Chairman of the Board Skip Alston said he and Commissioner Coleman shared decades of friendship.
"Not once in her remarkable life, did she slow down in her advocacy and commitment to supporting equity, inclusion, and tolerance," Alston said. "Her passing came as a surprise to us all. I was shocked to receive the call [Wednesday] to join her family at the hospital so that we could spend time with her during her last hours. We are all grieving for the loss of our friend right now.”
Alston said Coleman was also a mentor to him for nearly 40 years, both on the board and with the NAACP.
"I learned a lot and she’s truly encouraged me to continue the work that we’ve all been trying to do for all these years and that's being a voice for the voiceless," said Alston.
Former North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Henry Frye knew Coleman for years.
"One of the things I liked about her is she respected people," said Frye. "She didn’t call them all kind of names or anything because they disagreed with her."
Frye said Coleman was someone who could tackle difficult topics but in a respectful way.
"She knew how to explain something to you and also explain to you why you should be for it or against it," said Frye. "She was not the type of person who was afraid to express to you how she felt, irrespective about how you felt about something."
Guilford County Vice Chairwoman Carlvena Foster stated, “This is such a loss to this board, the Greensboro community, and the entire state. She was a true warrior, civil rights activist, and pillar in the community. She will be deeply missed.”
Under North Carolina statute, county commissioners may appoint someone to fill Coleman's seat within the next 60 days. That person would fill the role until the next election. Coleman's term was set to end in 2022.
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