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Editorial: Thank you, Claudette

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Claudette Burroughs-White, an 11-year Greensboro City Council veteran, passed on Sunday after a battle with esophageal cancer. She was 67.

Burroughs-White was more than a footnote in the city’s ongoing evolution – she was a living testament to Greensboro’s progression from small agricultural community to multicultural municipality. Since her appointment to council in 1994, she consistently spoke for the residents of District 2, her positions honed not only by her allegiance to her constituency but also her own personal history.

Just this past spring she regaled staff writer Amy Kingsley with stories of her youth as a student at Mt. Zion Elementary School and summers spent planting and pulling tobacco in her grandfather’s fields.

“I hated tobacco,” she said. “Those gummy, hot summers and hard, hard work… If kids today had to work as hard as we did, they’d love school too.”

Her education served her well. Burroughs-White graduated from Dudley High School in the 1950s, when segregation reigned in the South. She and her classmates, an idealistic bunch that included Walter Johnson and Richard Bowling, set their sights on North Carolina’s prestigious colleges and universities, many of which were actively fighting desegregation. She became a member of the Class of ’61 at Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina, soon to be renamed UNCG, as the second African American ever to attend the school.

“Going to Woman’s College was part of what I thought was a duty and a responsibility more than a choice,” she told YES! Weekly in 2006. “We had a NAACP youth group at Dudley. We didn’t know that UNCG was integrated already. We said we were going to send someone to all the major universities.”

Burroughs-White was not at the Woolworth’s lunch counter on Feb. 1, 1960, when four black NC A&T students made their stand. But she was there the next day, and the one after that.

“During the sit-ins I thought we were doing really good,” she said to News Editor Jordan Green. “You know, what are you going to do with the blacks and whites when they’re together? I don’t think we even had enough sense to know how powerful it was, how dangerous it might have been.”

After working as a teacher, a mental-health worker and a probation officer in juvenile court (where she met a young Keith Holliday), she found her true calling when she was appointed to Greensboro City Council in 1994 to the District 2 seat vacated by Alma Adams. She served until 2005, when she withdrew from politics but not public life.

We didn’t always agree with Burroughs-White – a case in point is her crusade against the White Street Landfill, which we saw as an inevitable and revenue-producing facet of the city but which council voted to close in 2001 after much politicking by the District 2 representative.

But we always respected her integrity, her honesty and her courage. Burroughs-White was a strong and influential voice in local politics, and her much-needed point of view will be missed.

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