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Elsie Grier was pioneering African-American woman

Feb 20, 2020 11:12AM

By Alan Hodge

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The late Miss Elsie Grier was one of Belmont’s most pioneering, persevering, and personable African-American women.  

Grier (1917-2010), was born in Gaston County and graduated from Reid High, the school where local African-American students went. She also attended Barber Scotia College and Johnson C. Smith University where she graduated Cum Laude. She pursued graduate studies at Columbia University, New York, and studied Media/Library Science at Appalachian State University. Grier’s 30-year career included time as a teacher, librarian, and basketball coach. Known as “Miss Elsie”, Grier was also a dedicated public servant. She served on the Belmont City Council from 1985 to 1997. She was also mayor Pro Tem for four years and is remembered as a visionary who cared for all citizens.

Grier advocated for Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday to be a paid holiday for full-time City of Belmont employees and it was approved on August 2, 1992. Grier was also active in the Main St. Revitalization Program that saw downtown Belmont transformed into its current charming persona.

Grier was a founding member of the Gaston County Organization for Community Concerns, Inc., and Key to Miracles Senior Citizens Group of Gaston County. She was an active member of Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church for over 70 years where she served as Young Adult Sunday School teacher and director of Christian Education. In 1954, she organized and was a charter member of Gaston County Baptist Association along with her mother Jane Davis-Grier and sister Marie Briggs.

Grier was the recipient of many awards including the North Carolina Human Relations Commission Citizen’s Award, the Family Advocate of the Year Award, the Gaston County Baptist Association Award, the Humanitarian Award, and the Gaston County Concerned Citizen’s Award. She was also one of the first inductees and recipients of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award. 

In  2015, Grier was recognized during Belmont’s annual Juneteenth event by having the Stowe Park Pavilion officially dedicated in her honor.

Lists of accolades and accomplishments are one thing, but Grier’s impact on folks she knew personally really reveal her personality. At the time of the pavilion dedication, Rebecca Brown of Belmont recalled Grier and her influence.

“I knew her all my life,” Brown had said. “My momma let her name me. Elsie was a mentor and starting guiding me when I was young. She was smart, respectful, and always doing for others.”

Current Belmont city council member Martha Stowe said Grier was a powerful influence on her.

“She and I rode together to many community and civic events in the 90’s,” Stowe recalled. “Since she, Kevin (Loftin), and Sam (Stowe) chair of the zoning board, were the major catalysts to get the Main St. revitalization going we talked many times about the importance of that for the future of the town. She was my mentor with regard to considering running for city council. In addition to the pros and cons my favorite memory is the time I asked if I could put a sign in her yard. She said it depends. I asked what does it depend on? She said if you win good if not you have to pay me. She was talented, vibrant, and had a sharp wit”