GREENVILLE — At 93 years outdated, Xanthene Norris would not transfer round like a whirlwind in excessive heels as she as soon as did, however she nonetheless has that sparkle in her eye when she feels passionate a couple of subject.
The flicker is there when she talks about her mother and pa, who she says impressed her life as an educator, civil rights advocate and public servant. The flicker returns when she discusses the best way some public officers have modified via the years, coming round on problems with race after Norris or her de ella Mama de ella “kicked some butts.”
It is there once more when she recollects the scholars she taught at Sterling Excessive College earlier than integration, and later at Greenville Excessive College, as a steering counselor or via her school preparatory program. A few of these embody Greenville Mayor Knox White, council members Lillian Brock Flemming and Russell Stahl, and Alan Mitchell, who was elected to switch her on Greenville County Council in January.
Norris is stepping away from politics after 25 years serving District 23 on Greenville County Council, leaving a legacy of service and a lifetime of labor in the neighborhood that is now the duty of these she’s mentored.
“I simply did issues that I knew needed to be completed,” mentioned Norris, talking from the lounge of her dwelling in Nicholtown, the place tons of of items of ephemera, household portraits and awards encircle the room. “It was value it. It was value it. It wasn’t simple nevertheless it was value it.”
Norris was born in Winston-Salem, NC, and her household moved to Greenville when she was about 3 years outdated. Her mom de ella taught at Sterling, the Black highschool in Greenville earlier than integration, and her father de ella labored on the railroad and later as an elevator operator at The Greenville Information.
Norris nonetheless recollects the second when she understood Black individuals had been handled as second-class residents. She often walked the place she wanted to go, however typically rode the bus. One time, the bus driver accused Norris of not paying her fare, although she put her coin within the slot. He instructed her to go to the again of the bus and slapped her, Norris mentioned.
“I used to be horrified,” Norris mentioned, that the person had falsely accused her and slapped her. She instructed her dad and mom de ella that evening and her father de ella went along with her the following day to confront the driving force. However when her father de ella confronted the driving force, he berated her father and instructed him to get to the again of the bus. Her father of her didn’t say a lot again, she remembers, and he walked to the again of the bus.
“I used to be simply so damage that he wasn’t capable of do something,” Norris mentioned.
That incident would preface her later involvement within the civil rights motion in Greenville.
Norris attended Sterling and graduated as valedictorian, then attended Clark Faculty in Atlanta, the place she sang in choir and met a pupil at close by Morehouse Faculty named Martin Luther King Jr.
Upon commencement, she mentioned she wished to remain in Atlanta as a result of it was a hotbed for Black tradition within the Nineteen Forties and ’50s, however she moved again to Greenville as a result of she wished to repay her dad and mom for the sacrifices they made to coach her and ship her to school.
She turned a trainer and later earned a masters diploma as one of many first Black feminine college students at Furman College.
She selected the historic Springfield Baptist Church as her dwelling church and shortly turned integral within the civil rights motion.
Springfield was the launchpad for the civil rights protests that ultimately drove Greenville County’s integration. Norris helped plan logistics for lots of the makes an attempt to combine Greenville, together with marches down McBee Avenue to lunch counter sit-ins and the now-famous Greenville Eight that led the combination of the Greenville library. Rev. Jesse Jackson, who had been one in every of her college students from Ella at Sterling, helped lead the library sit-in in 1960.
On the time, Norris mentioned she took lots of the questions for Greenville’s integration from work being completed elsewhere, particularly in Atlanta. Black leaders remained steadfast, regardless of heartbreaking challenges. As college integration ramped up in 1967, Sterling burned to the bottom. The hearth’s trigger formally stays a thriller.
Norris, who was at Sterling the evening of the fireplace, mentioned the group determined they would not let it decide their efforts.
“We’ll do for Greenville what we have to do,” she mentioned they determined.
Faculties built-in in Greenville in 1970. Two years later in 1972 Springfield caught hearth, doing $650,000 in injury to the historic church. A portray of the church nonetheless hangs in Norris’ sitting room. The church was rebuilt and reopened in 1976.
Whereas working for civil rights, Norris additionally labored to coach her neighborhood. She taught French at Sterling and later at Greenville Excessive College, and created a university preparatory program run via Springfield. She helped college students with preparation for taking the ACT and SAT exams and supplied tutoring and steering.
Immediately, she counts that as one in every of her best achievements, and one she nonetheless hears about ceaselessly.
“After I see (former college students) now, it is like ‘Miss Norris, thanks. I would not have graduated from school with out you,’” she mentioned.
Amongst these she helped was Flemming, who has gone on to serve greater than 40 years on Greenville Metropolis Council. Mitchell, who will now change Norris because the council member for District 23, additionally obtained assist from Norris, she mentioned.
“He was mine,” she mentioned with a smile.
State Rep. Chandra Dillard has recognized Norris her whole life, however formally knew her first as a steering counselor at Greenville Excessive.
“If she noticed your potential, knew your pursuits, she’d do all the pieces she might to form of gentle the fireplace beneath these issues,” Dillard mentioned.
Norris deliberate Dillard’s whole summer time earlier than her senior yr of college, sending her to Women State after which to South Carolina State to realize school credit. It helped set the muse for Dillard’s personal political profession of hers.
Norris later helped Dillard write her first marketing campaign speech.
Norris retired from a profession in schooling in 1984 however continued to stay concerned in schooling efforts and in neighborhood service.
She ran for political workplace for the primary time in 1997, as a result of “individuals requested me to do it.”
She was elected, and served alongside her good good friend Lottie Gibson as two Black girls on an overwhelmingly White male County Council.
As cities and counties throughout the USA started to acknowledge Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a vacation, every time a Black council member in Greenville County raised the problem, it was struck down. The vacation had been federally acknowledged since 1983.
Norris, Gibson and Wade Cleveland labored collectively for years to get the county to designate MLK Jr. as a paid vacation. 4 instances, the council voted it down. However after turnover on the council, a sleep-in at County Sq., and the handfuls of instances Jackson returned to Greenville, the council lastly voted 8-5 in 2005 to acknowledge the vacation.
Greenville was the final county within the nation to formally acknowledge MLK Day as a paid vacation.
“She is a really assured particular person and she or he is a really strong-willed particular person,” Flemming mentioned. “It was troublesome for her to take no for a solution.”
Amongst Norris’ different accomplishments on the council was work alongside Dillard and Flemming to convey a pedestrian bridge to the Southernside neighborhood. It restored connectivity throughout prepare tracks to the remainder of Greenville after the Hampton Avenue bridge was torn down, excluding Southernside on a pedestrian island.
That was additionally almost a 10-year course of. The bridge opened in March 2020 and is known as the Xanthene Sayles Norris Pedestrian Bridge.
Flemming known as it a becoming tribute to the prolonged profession of her good friend and mentor.
“She labored laborious to ensure she might do no matter she might for her neighborhood,” Flemming mentioned.
Norris would not plan to loosen up but. She mentioned she is going to stay concerned with individuals who she’s recognized for many years in the neighborhood and can proceed to do some work at Springfield.
“I am completely happy,” she mentioned, “due to what we had been capable of do.”