Evelyn Neely, a civil rights pioneer nicknamed the mayor of East Athens, died on Monday at the age of 88.
Starting in the late 1960s, Neely and three other East Athens women—Miriam Moore, Virginia Walker and Jessie Barnett—fought for equal rights and government services in the local black community.
Unlike Moore and Barnett, both former city councilwomen, Neely never held elected office, but she held numerous other leadership positions in the community. Among the accomplishments she shared in: jump-starting the political career of former Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond, integrating local public schools, building the Oconee River Greenway, opening the Athens Neighborhood Health Center and bringing needed infrastructure like running water and paved roads to her neighborhood. Much of that work was done through the federal urban revitalization program Model Cities.
Neely remained active into her 80s, although she had slowed down in recent years due to her health. She was honored in 2007 when the Labor Department named the road leading to its career center off North Avenue after her.
Services for Neely will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at East Friendship Baptist Church on Arch Street. Jackson McWhorter Funeral Home has charge of the arrangements.
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