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Elizabeth Harden Gilmore


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Elizabeth Harden Gilmore (August 11, 1910 – April 8, 1986) was an African-American funeral director and civil rights activist from Charleston.

Gilmore was raised by her grandmother, following the death of her mother when Gilmore was only eleven months old. She graduated from Garnet High School, and attended West Virginia State College (now University) and Florida’s Bethune-Cookman College. She would become the first African-American woman licensed as a funeral director in West Virginia and the first woman licensed as a funeral director in Kanawha County.

Gilmore co-founded Harden-Harden Funeral Home with her first husband, Silas Harden. Beginning in 1947 Harden-Harden operated at 514 Broad Street (now 514 Leon Sullivan Way) on Charleston’s East End. This location, which also served as Gilmore’s residence, is known today as the Elizabeth Harden Gilmore House or Minotti-Gilmore House. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Silas Harden died in 1946. In 1949, Gilmore married Virgil Gilmore, a future two-term Charleston city councilman.

In 1958, Gilmore was among the first organizers of the Charleston chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the first and at the time only CORE chapter in the state. She served as executive secretary for the local chapter.

With CORE, Gilmore participated in a number of boycotts and sit-in demonstrations challenging racial discrimination. Most notable was a two-year boycott of the Diamond Department Store, which led to the store integrating its lunch counter on May 3, 1960.

CORE advocated for a public swimming pool in South Charleston in response to segregation at Rock Lake Pool. In 1964, during Senator Barry Goldwater’s visit to the Charleston Civic Center, CORE sponsored a show at Charleston’s Municipal Auditorium headlined by African-American comedian and Goldwater critic Dick Gregory.

In addition to CORE, Gilmore was active in a number of organizations, including Girl Scouts, the Kanawha Valley Council on Human Relations, and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Gilmore also served as president of the state Board of Regents. She was an active and faithful member of Simpson United Methodist Church.

Gilmore is buried in Charleston’s Spring Hill Cemetery.

View the National Register nomination for Elizabeth Harden Gilmore House

Written by Jeffrey Webb

Sources

  1. "Elizabeth Mason Harden Gilmore". West Virginia’s African-American Women of Distinction: Volume 1. Wendy Thomas, ed. Charleston: The Printing Press, 2002.

  2. "Ex-Regents President Gilmore Dies at 75". The Charleston Daily Mail, April 9, 1986.

  3. Marsh, Don. "Negro Says Action Way to Get Integration". Sunday Gazette-Mail, May 22, 1960.