Durham's first black councilwoman dies

Jun. 18, 2014 @ 04:52 PM

Carolyn Thornton, the first black woman to serve on the Durham City Council, died Saturday after an illness. She was 78.
Mrs. Thornton was appointed to the council in 1978, replacing John C. Martin, who resigned after being appointed a Superior Court judge. She served through Dec. 3, 1979.
Former Durham City Council member Howard Clement, who was first elected in 1983, said Mrs. Thornton was a good council member.
“I’ve always given a lot of praise for Carolyn, because she was very forthright and had a positive way about issues coming before the community and the council,” Mr. Clement said Wednesday. “I respected her very much because of her stance on issues. She didn’t fly off like others – and I’m not calling names – but she took a very reasoned view. She will be missed.”
George Bridgers, her longtime friend and fellow White Rock Baptist Church member, said Mrs. Thornton was proud of being named to the council.
“She considered that quite an accomplishment,” he said.
Mr. Bridgers had known Mrs. Thornton more than 50 years.
“She was a beautiful person, and never forgot my birthday,” Mr. Bridgers, 79, said. “Now, you can add that up.”
He said Mrs. Thornton was a good listener and a thoughtful person.
“She thought things out before she made any decisions,” he said. “She had a lot of spirit and was a good church worker.”
Another church member, James Carney, met Mrs. Thornton in 1952.
“She was a very loving person, very smart and kind,” he said. “We’re going to miss her.”
Mrs. Thornton was the first black female probation officer in North Carolina. She was chief psychiatric social worker at the Cooperative School for Pregnant Girls, and served as director of social work and mental health at Lincoln Community Health Center for 31 years.
At Lincoln, she wrote a grant and developed the Homeless Health Care Project, which continues to operate at Urban Ministries of Durham.
Family visitation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday at White Rock Baptist Church. Funeral services start at 1 p.m. Sunday at the church.