Today is one of great sadness for me because I just learned that I lost a dear friend, a mentor, and one of the most distinguished public servants and civil rights heroines I have ever known.
Some people have been very gracious in mentioning that I am the first African American female Commissioner at the FCC, but whenever I hear that, my thoughts immediately turn to all of those who had the courage and fortitude to break down a number of other barriers that made my service possible. Commissioner Marjorie Amos-Frazier was one of those pioneers. Her dedication to civil rights and to improving the lives of the less fortunate began, in the 1940’s, when she encouraged Charleston African Americans to register to vote and worked to desegregate the restaurants, theaters and other public places in the city. As director of the Alliance of Concerned Citizens for Better Government, between 1972 and 1976, she focused her attentions on providing better conditions for the poor. She ran and beat seven other candidates to win a seat on the Charleston County Council in 1974 because, “I had seen so much wrong doing and I felt there needed to be a change.” When she was elected to the South Carolina Public Service Commission in 1980, she was the first African-American, and the first non-legislator to hold that position. In 1988, she became vice-chairperson of the Commission and two years later she became chairperson. She served on the Commission until her retirement in 1993. She is the only African-American to have been installed into the Charleston Federation of Women's Club Hall of Fame -- yet another first for this dedicated public servant.
I was told that one of my first encounters with Mrs. Amos-Frazier was as a precocious youngster who was so curious and so “busy” during what must have been my first time on a boat, that my naturally irritated (and embarrassed) parents commanded that I keep still. Mrs. Frazier gently asked them to leave me alone because I was only doing what children naturally do. That’s the type of person she was: accepting, tolerant, and supportive. When I was elected to represent the Sixth District of South Carolina on the Public Service Commission, she was right there, standing with me and my mother and when that final vote came in, all three of us leaped for joy.
My heart is extremely heavy today, but I am comforted by the fact that Commissioner Marjorie Amos-Frazier was always there for us when it mattered the most and faced her long illness in as dignified a manner as she handled all the other challenges in her life.