Mecklenburg County Commissioner Ella Scarborough passed away Tuesday, May 24. She was 75.
Scarborough was a legendary Queen City figure for many reasons. In 1987 she was the first black woman to be elected to the Charlotte City Council, where she served until 1997. She later became the first black woman to run for the U.S. Senate and Charlotte Mayor.
In 2014 she captured a seat on the Mecklenburg County commission. Her time on the commission included service as the chairperson from 2016 to 2018 and as an at-large commissioner until her passing.
During her work with both the city and county, Scarborough, the mother of an openly gay son, remained a steadfast ally to the LGBTQ community.
Her friend and peer Pat Cotham told the Charlotte Observer Scarborough often liked to recall stories her father had shared about her childhood and premature birth. Born June 3, 1946, in Sumter, South Carolina, she was premature, and the nearest hospital was segregated. Regardless, her father, Cotham said, “made a big ruckus with the hospital and said he wasn’t going to let his daughter die.” As a result of her father’s insistence, the hospital allowed Scarborough’s mother to give birth, and provided the family and their newborn with the needed care. That she “ended up integrating as a newborn,” said Cotham, “set a tone for who she was and showed her father fought for what was right.”
In her life that followed, she would protest and be arrested in 1963, along with several other teens, who were attempting to draw attention to a segregated theater in Sumter. In 1972, she gave birth to her son, Troy and her daughter Tori in 1979.
The widow of Pete Scarborough, she was a graduate of South Carolina State University.. Additionally, she was the president of the Black Women’s Caucus of Charlotte Mecklenburg and listed in Who’s Who in the World of Women of 1980.
Mecklenburg County released the following statement late in the day on May 25:
Mecklenburg County is celebrating the life of County Commissioner Ella Scarborough and paying tribute to her many decades of public service…during her time on the Board, Commissioner Scarborough advocated for youth literacy and for solutions to homelessness. She also chaired the Board of County Commissioners’ Economic Development Committee. In 2008, Commissioner Scarborough served as a North Carolina delegate at the Democratic National Convention.
“Commissioner Scarborough was a trailblazer throughout her life, serving the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community in so many capacities, and fighting for racial justice and integration from an early age,” said George Dunlap, Chairman of the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners. “Her passion was limitless and her loss is immeasurable. Our prayers go out to her family, friends and the entire Mecklenburg County community that is a better place today due to her dedication.”
Services for Commissioner Scarborough are being handled by Chris King Memorial Chapel in Chester, South Carolina. Click here for an album with images of Commissioner Scarborough at work for Mecklenburg County.