Elna Spaulding

Elna B. Spaulding, who turned the pain, fear and hatred spawned by the Rev. Mar¬tin Luther King Jr.'s 1968 assassination into a living legacy of fighting the root causes of violence in the Durham community, died Sunday at Duke University Hospital. She would have turned 98 on Jan. 23., 2007.

"Not another soul could have done it," Mary D.B.T. Semans of Durham, who was friends with Mrs. Spaulding for 50 years, said Monday of Mrs. Spaulding's work to create Women in-Action for the Prevention of Violence and Its Causes. "She alone painted the vision and created the situation in which Durham, with her leadership, became a really mixed society," Semans said. "She got on the phone with people from every walk of life, from public housing to the country club, among every racial group, all kinds of associa¬tions. Because of her, they got together. I've never seen anything like it since. "Goodness, what a wonderful life."

MaryAnn Black, a friend for 37 years and associate vice president of community affairs at Duke University Health System, said she was with Mrs. Spaulding and family members when she died. "For me, she was such a role model and mentor, and someone I truly grew to love, respect and admire. She lived a life that spoke of love, but she also worked very hard and allowed her work to speak for her. It's certainly a great loss for the community," Black said.

Mayor Bill Bell called Mrs. Spaulding's death a "true loss of someone who epitomized leadership and grandeur." "She was well-spoken and knew how to conduct herself in all kinds of situations," Bell said. "She was very helpful to me when we served on the Board of County Commissioners together. She was very supportive and always gave sound advice, which I needed at that time because I was a bit youthful in some of my actions."

City Councilman Howard Clement said a "mighty oak" has fallen. "She was a wonderful woman, very sensitive to the needs of the community and particularly with respect to her devotion to. a nonviolent approach to resolving social issues," Clement said.

Her late husband of 57 years, Asa T. Spaulding Sr., was Clement's boss when Clement started work at N.C. Mutual Life Insurance Co. in 1961. Asa Spaulding Sr. died in September 1990. He was a retired president of N.C. Mutual and Durham's first black county commissioner.

Blue Greenberg of Durham said Mrs. Spaulding called her and asked her to attend the .;first Women-In-Action meeting. “It " was filled with energy, not anger," said Greenberg, an arts columnist for The Herald-Sun. "Women never had been considered as people who could start or stop some¬thing [but] were doing some¬thing. She was a real force."

Mrs. Spaulding's survivors include her children, Asa T. Spaulding Jr., Patri¬cia Spaulding Moore, Aaron Lowery SpaUlding, Kenneth Bridgeforth Spaulding, six grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Born in Tuskegee Institute, Ala., Mrs. Spaulding received a bachelor's degree in music from Talladega College. She taught in the Durham Public Schools and was chairwoman of music for Winston-Salem Teachers College for two years. She was elected to the Durham County Commissioners in 1974 and served until retiring in 1984. Mrs. Spaulding was the founder and former president of Women-In-Action for the Prevention of Violence and Its Causes Inc., an inter¬racial, independent, nonprofit community service organization.

She launched it on Sept. 4, 1968, after attending a national conference on "What Women Can Do to End Violence in America." The new organization brought together Durham blacks and whites - many for the first time - to focus on basic needs and root causes of poverty and violence. The group played a critical role in negotiating the conclusion of the black buying boycott of 1968-69 and smoothing the way for the 1970 court-ordered desegregation of Durham's public schools. In 1991, Women-In-Action named an annual award for Mrs. Spaulding.

Mrs. Spaulding was involved in numerous civic, educational and church organizations, including Lincoln Community Health Center, N.C. Central Museum of Art and Board of Trustees, Durham County Hospital Corp., National Council of Negro Women, Governor's Citizens Committee on Schools, North Carolina School of the Arts, North Carolina Museum Of Art, Child Advocacy of Durham and Durham Day Care Council.

Mrs. Spaulding also was a member of the Durham Com¬mittee on the Affairs of Black People, the National Council of Negro Women, the NAACP, the Citizens Advisory Committee for Duke University Council on Aging and Human Development, Durham Democratic Women, Durham Day Care Council Board of Directors, YWCA of Durham board of directors, Urban Ministries of Durham Inc. board of directors, and the Governor's Citizens Commit¬tee on Schools.

Mrs. Spaulding also received numerous honors and awards. In 1988, she received the Durham County Women's Commission's Women's Equality Award and the McCall's Award for 20 years of outstanding public service to Durham County. In 1989, she received the N.C. Council on the Status of Women Distinguished Women of N.C. Award, and Durham's "Keeper of the Dream" award. In 1992, Mrs. Spaulding was awarded an honorary doctorate by Duke University. She was presented the North Carolina Award in 1997 by Gov. Jim Hunt, the highest award bestowed by the State. In 2001, Mrs. Spaulding also received. the William C. Friday Award for Moral Leadership at Duke University.

Contributions can be made to the Triangle Community Foundation for the Asa T. and Elna B. Spaulding Endowment Fund, 4813 Emperor Blvd., Suite 130, Durham, NC 27703. The fund provides support to programs improving human and race relations in Durham.