Petersburg mourns loss of Civil Rights pioneer

By Ben Garbarek - bio | email

PETERSBURG, VA (WWBT) - A local Civil Rights hero passed away over the weekend. Former Petersburg mayor Hermanze Fauntleroy Jr. died Saturday after a battle with cancer. He was 78.

Fauntleroy broke the color barrier at city hall in Petersburg and helped end segregation in his community. Friends call him a giant in Petersburg and a voice that will be missed.

Fauntleroy was the first African-American to open a business in downtown Petersburg, the first black mayor in Petersburg and consequently the first black mayor in all of Virginia.

Florence Farley sat on the city council with Fauntleroy in the 60's. She says he was a leader in everything he did and someone people could rely on.

"People believed in him in this community," she said. "They said, 'Well I'm going to call Mr. Fauntleroy. Mr. Fauntleroy will take care of that.' They weren't just talking about him. They were talking about the system he represented and the people a part of that system."

Wayne Crocker is the head of the Petersburg Public Library and worked with Fauntleroy for years. He says he could always count on Fauntleroy's support, and can't believe such a giant in the community is now gone.

"Sometimes you don't see people as much as you're used to seeing them but you know they're there," he said.  "But now that they're not there and you know they're not there, it's a loss. It's definitely a big loss."

Friends say Fauntleroy could relate to anyone.

"He could walk among all people and participate and be with them and be friendly with them and it was not superficial," Farley said. "It was meaningful. He cared about people."

Arrangements for his funeral have not been announced.

Fauntleroy's success came with a lot of sacrifices. He was forced to quit his job as a teacher at Peabody High School when he was first elected to the city council.

Copyright 2010 wwbt nbc12. All rights reserved.