Elizabeth Harden Gilmore

Gilmore house
ca. April 2009

Public Domain

Quick Facts

first African American woman licensed as a funeral director in Kanawha County, West Virginia in the late 1930s.
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Elizabeth Harden Gilmore was the first black woman licensed as a funeral director in Kanawha County, West Virginia in the late 1930s. Gilmore was also a civil rights advocate in her community. She pioneered efforts to integrate her state's schools, housing, and public accommodations. For her business savvy and civil rights work, Elizabeth Harden Gilmore is an American Hero.

Before the Brown v. Board of Education decision mandating school desegregation, Gilmore formed a women's club which opened Charleston's first integrated day care center. At about the same time, she succeeded in getting her black Girl Scout troop admitted to Camp Anne Bailey near the mountain town of Lewisburg. After co-founding the local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in 1958, she led CORE in a successful 1 ½-year-long sit-in campaign at a local department store called The Diamond. In the 1960s Gilmore served on the Kanawha Valley Council of Human Relations, where she participated in forums on racial differences and where she helped black renters, displaced by a new interstate highway, find housing. Her successful push to amend the 1961 state civil rights law won her a seat on the powerful higher-education Board of Regents. Gilmore was the first African American to receive such an honor. She stayed on the Board from 1969 to the late 1970s serving one term as vice-president and one term as president. Gilmore's tireless commitment to civil and human rights didn't end there. She was also involved with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and community education and welfare committees. "She was always there," says her friend Betty Hamilton. "Her commitment was ongoing and steadfast."

The Elizabeth Harden Gilmore House, where Gilmore and her husband lived and ran the Harden and Harden funeral home, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

Last updated: August 14, 2018