|Hermanze Edwin Fauntleroy Jr.|
So I was on twitter last night and happen to see this. I thought it was an interesting idea and I decided to try it out. All day I've been kind of torn on who I wanted to really focus on first. Then I thought "maybe I should go local" and well, it probably doesn't get any closer than this. You see for the first decade or so of my life Mr.Fauntleroy was our neighbor and landlord and sadly all I remember is that he was always a nice old man who would give us back our balls that occasionally flew over his fence. It kind of makes me sad that I had no idea who he really was until I saw his obituary in late 2010. Some people reading might not even think it's that big of a deal but to me it's just this feeling of "wow, I lived next to a hero." You know?
From The Progress Index:
"Fauntleroy was the city's first black mayor and the first black mayor in the state according to the Virginia Historical Society.The historic achievement was featured in a July 1973 Jet Magazine. The article noted that the vote for Fauntleroy as mayor was a unanimous one by the seven-member council, of which only four members were black.
Florence Farley, who served on that council with Fauntleroy, recalled him as a "beautiful person." She went on to say that he was the perfect gentleman - equal parts gentleness and strength when dealing with issues.
"He was dedicated to this city," Farley said.
Farley and Fauntleroy had known each other even before their time on City Council together. She said that she first met Fauntleroy while working at Virginia State University, then known as Virginia State College.
Fauntleroy was a 1954 graduate of of VSU but his father had worked there as well. Farley and Fauntleroy had a passion for civic duty and worked together with a group called Petersburg Voter Education Committee. Around the same time, Fauntleroy began to teach at Peabody High School in career and technical education.
Farley said that when the city annexed part of Prince George and Dinwiddie counties, the group went to the then five-member Petersburg City Council and asked for more black representation.
"We felt as though the black vote had been diluted," Farley said.
The group eventually pursued the case to the Surpreme Court which determined that the ward system needed to be implemented in the city. It wasn't long after that before Fauntleroy ran for office. When he was elected to City Council though he was fired from his job as a teacher. "He gave up his career for this city," Farley said. "He gave up his profession for this community." A Sept. 15, 1966, issue of Jet magazine features an article about Fauntleroy being forced to resign his position in the city's public schools or give up his elected council seat.
Farley said that when Fauntleroy was fired from his job, he didn't hang his head even knowing that he had a wife and three daughters to support. The president of Virginia State College hired him on as the director of the Alumni Association according to Farley. He also worked for a period of time at Titmus Optical before finally opening a hardware store on Sycamore Street. Farley said that was even a first.
"He was the first black businessman on Sycamore Street," Farley said. It was around that time that many businesses were also moving from downtown to the newly opened Walnut Mall. Farley said eventually Fauntleroy's business failed but that he remained dedicated to the community going on to work for an education representation.
In 1973 City Council finally had a black majority with four of seven members. It was at that time that anticipation began to fill the air that Fauntleroy would be named the new mayor. An article in the July 3, 1973, edition of The Progress-Index noted that Fauntleroy as an already experienced councilman would likely be picked as Mayor. At the re-organizational meeting, he was selected as mayor and in the July 5, 1973, edition of The Progress-Index, the decision was revealed from the council meeting - Fauntleroy was elected as mayor.
Several of the decisions made that night hold true to the current city council meeting format, including a 30 minute public comment period and allowing public comment on any action item before city council. Both of those changes were noted as being put forward by Fauntleroy shortly after becoming mayor.
Fauntleroy would only serve as mayor for a brief period of time, before being replaced, but it wasn't long before he was once again named mayor this time for four consecutive years from 1976 to 1980.
Fauntleroy continued to remain active in the community serving on boards, commissions and other special projects through 2009 when he resigned from the Planning Commission.
In 2007, he even helped lead a project to record the oral histories of other civil rights leaders in the city. "If we don't do something like the oral history project, we're afraid we'll lose the opportunity to talk to those who were around during the civil rights movement," Fauntleroy said in 2006 about the Petersburg 2007 Civil Rights Oral History Project.
Friday Fauntleroy even voiced his opinions in a letter to the editor regarding the current race for the Ward 5 seat on City Council.
"I had the opportunity to serve as mayor and as a member of the Petersburg City Council some 24 years ago," Fauntleroy said in his letter. "At that time the city was not what it is today in terms of growth and what has taken place in relationship to expansion in the city as it relates to the citizens having much of what we didn't have at that particular time. We need to be sure that we continue the effort to bring about the kind of growth that we need in Petersburg. And that includes human growth as well as business growth."