Lottie Gibson remembered as champion for those without a voice

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Lottie Gibson was a voice for people who had no voice.

The long-time Greenville County Council member and civil rights activist led a years-long fight to get Greenville County to approve a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. She pushed additional resources for those struggling with addiction and substance abuse. She also worked to make college accessible for the disadvantaged.

“Lottie Gibson was one of the most outstanding, selfless community servants I’ve ever known,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., who worked with Gibson on the MLK Jr. holiday. “Heaven wanted a Christmas present and brought Lottie home.”

Gibson died Sunday. She was 86.

Her biography on the Greenville County website describes Gibson as “a one-woman crusader for Greenville’s poor and disenfranchised citizens for more than 50 years.”

Gibson worked at Greenville Technical College as its first director of federal outreach and student services programs. The programs were designed to assist low-income individuals, persons with disabilities and first-generation college students. She held the post for 32 years.

Prior to that, Gibson was employed by the Phillis Wheatley Association, the S.C. Department of Public Welfare and the USO. She was a teacher at Sterling High School and was a staff member at Head Start.

Bruce Cannon, a former Greenville County Sheriff’s Office captain, called Gibson a true public servant, not only for the residents of District 25 that she represented on County Council, but for those who needed a voice or access to service.

“I admired her steadfast dedication and her willingness to stand up for what she thought was right even in the face of opposition,” Cannon wrote on his Cannon for Sheriff Facebook page. “Her death is a loss not only for her family but for the larger Greenville community.”

Gibson was first elected as District 25 County Council representative in 1992. Gibson suffered a stroke in January 2016 and lost a bid for re-election in June.

Gibson efforts to get a county-wide MLK holiday passed took 19 years. “She inspired the movement — including a sleep-in protest in the County Council chambers that led to Greenville finally honoring the King holiday,” Jackson said in his statement.

Gibson led protests after the lynching of Willie Earle, thought to be the last passenger of slain cabdriver Thomas W. Brown. Earle was arrested and held in the Pickens County jail. A white mob forced the jailer to give Earle up and Earle was driven to Greenville and lynched, the last recorded lynching in South Carolina. She fought for voting rights and hosted meetings with activists in her home. She helped form the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

“She always stood on the side of freedom, equity and justice,” Jackson said.

Gibson’s County Council biography said she had received more than 65 public awards, recognitions and citations, including the prestigious Jefferson Award. In 1996, she was among a group of 21 people affiliated with Head Start to travel to Africa to provide guidance in setting up public education programs for children. In 1999, she received the Whitney B. Young Humanitarian Award from the Greenville Urban League. In 2000, she received the National Community Action Volunteer Award.

In August, the Phoenix Center named its training center The Lottie Beal Gibson Center of Excellence. The center trains clinicians throughout South Carolina on evidence-based practices in the education, treatment and recovery of those suffering from substance abuse disorders.

Visitation is Thursday from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Springfield Baptist Church in Greenville. The funeral is Friday at 11 a.m.

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