We just finished observing Black History Month, which began in 1915, a half century after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery. Some historical figures responsible for the abolition of slavery, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass have birthdays in February. Coincidentally, the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is on Jan. 15.
There are countless other black heroes, not born in February and not nationally recognized, who have contributed to the advancement of not only black citizens but also the quality of life of all of us.
Doris “Jill” Carson, of my hometown, Pennington Gap, Va. is one such hero.
Jill passed away on Jan. 23, leaving behind her husband of 45 years, Ron Carson, and two children, son, Kevin and daughter, Alexis.
Jill’s professional and community service record is extensive. She worked with the Department of Human Services to review Head Start Programs around the country. After leaving Head Start, she started a new career with the Virginia Organizing Project (VOP), becoming involved in efforts to restore voting rights to non-violent felons. She was also active in efforts to reopen Lee County, Virginia’s only hospital.
She provided leadership to numerous community organizations including being elected to the Pennington Gap Town council where she served as vice-mayor. She was appointed to the Virginia Municipal League and served as president and vice-president. She and Ron were presented with the President’s Volunteer Service award. The African American History Commission presented her with the STRONGER THAN Woman of the year in 2023.
Her funeral was held in Lee Theatre, which is the town’s movie theatre. She helped with its renovation.
Jill worked closely with Pennington High School students in the Guidance Department, assisting them with college selection and application.
Her accomplishment that I am most familiar with is the establishment of the African American Cultural Center in Pennington Gap. Jill and Ron renovated and reopened the one-room school house that was Lee County’s only primary school for black students.
Founded in 1987, it houses an archive of artifacts, photos, and other items of historical significance. It operated from 1940 until 1965 when it was shuttered due to state mandated desegregation.
I grew up in a house about half a mile down the hill from the Cultural Center. Students attending the center walked past my house, past our elementary school, to their one-room schoolhouse.
So, Jill Carson, a black female, has had a tremendous, positive influence on the region. She certainly deserves all the accolades she has received. And you are encouraged to visit the Appalachian African American Cultural Center. Check the center’s webpage, make reservation and plan to visit. It will provide a unique, rich perspective on African American history you won’t get anywhere else.
Dr. Aubrey Lee is a retired associate professor from King University’s School of Business, Economics and Technology.