Chapel Hill â€” Rebecca Clark, champion for justice, community leader and political organizer, died early Saturday in her sleep at her home on Crest Drive in Chapel Hill. She was 93.
News of Clarkâ€™s death had many recalling a life marked by a deep caring and concern for all people and an acumen for community and political organizing.
Services will be held Friday at Chapel Hill Bible Church with a viewing starting at 11 a.m. and services at 1 p.m. Later, there will be repast at the Hargraves Center for out-of-town visitors.
Her grandson, Doug Clark Jr., who lives in Chapel Hill, said he and his children visited with his grandmother Thursday and shared holiday stories.
â€œShe will be missed,â€ he said. â€œThey donâ€™t make them like that anymore.â€
The Clark family is tight knit, and even after the musical success of Doug Clark Sr. and his brother, John, the Pine Knolls neighborhood was still home.
Doug Clark Jr. said his grandmother knew everyone in the community around Cole and Johnson streets and Crest Drive.
â€œShe was the matriarch of this neighborhood,â€ he said. â€œA lot of people would drop by to seek her advice and approval.â€
Clark was able to weave politics and community organizing into advocacy for her neighborhood, convincing Chapel Hill to annex the area and provide paved roads and services.
Fred Battle, former president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP and a Chapel Hill native, recalled her life of service. The two spent some time together two weeks ago going over candidates for an NAACP award named in her honor.
â€œShe did an outstanding job serving a lot of the elderly and sick, folks confined to their homes and rest homes. And she was very politically active,â€ he said. â€œIt was a beautiful sight when you went to the Lincoln precinct and youâ€™d see her son Doug out there and sheâ€™d be bringing people to the polls. It was a family thing.â€
A Chatham County native, Rebecca Clark was orphaned at 11 and spent much of her early years working service jobs at the university. Later in life, she walked with a cane and would complain she ruined her knee pressing clothes in the university laundry near the power plant on Cameron Avenue. The building where she worked was later named for her.
She was born five years before womenâ€™s suffrage and at the height of the Jim Crow South. She worked to see Chapel Hill become the first major Southern town to elect a black mayor and registered voters for Barack Obama. In an interview with The Citizen the day after the election of the nationâ€™s first black president, she said expressed hope, not just because of the election but because so many young people had stepped up to â€œpull the plow.â€
It was something she understood very well, and many of the people she worked with in politics excelled.
â€œIn many ways, you could say she wrote the book on grassroots politics,â€ state school board chairman and former mayor of Chapel Hill Howard Lee said Wednesday. Lee remembers Clark as a skilled organizer who made certain that people got to the polls. â€œShe was not one of these talkers. She provided a means.â€
Lee said Clark was skilled not only at politics but in holding those she helped get elected to their word.
â€œShe would hold your feet to the fire,â€ he said.
Though her support was crucial â€” she at first didnâ€™t want Lee to run for mayor, but was his biggest supporter once he did â€” her friendship and guidance were even more highly valued.
â€œI consider Ms. Clark somewhat like a second mother,â€ Lee said. â€œI will personally miss her very much.â€
Fourth District U.S. Rep. David Price called Clark a mentor and friend and a persistent advocate for social justice.
â€œI and many others will continue to be inspired and challenged by her memory,â€ he said.
Speaker of the North Carolina House Joe Hackney said he knew Clark for more than 40 years and was always impressed by the way she used politics to improve the lives of others. â€œShe was somebody who truly used politics â€” in the best sense of the word â€” to achieve for people who needed help.â€
Former Orange County Commissioner Moses Carey, who was appointed last weekend to chair the Employment Security Commission of North Carolina, said he took her guidance in public life.
â€œShe certainly was a beacon for me in public service,â€ he said. â€œShe helped me to focus my attentions on people in need.â€