Mecklenburg County Commissioner, trailblazer Ella Scarborough dies at 75

CHARLOTTE — A trailblazer and legend, longtime Charlotte and Mecklenburg County leader Ella Scarborough, has died at the age of 75, her family confirmed to Channel 9.

[PAST COVERAGE: Commissioners vote to pay Ella Scarborough while on leave and appoint interim replacement]

Scarborough will be memorialized on Wednesday, June 1, at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, 3400 Beatties Ford Road. A visitation will begin at 12 p.m. followed by a funeral service at 1 p.m., her family shared.

In 1987, Scarborough became the first Black female Charlotte city council member. She served on the city council until 1997. She was elected to the Mecklenburg County Commission in 2014 and served as chair from 2016 to 2018. She also ran for mayor and U.S. Senate.

“I met Ella when I first ran for elected office and we became friends,” Mayor Vi Lyles wrote on Twitter. “We both grew up in SC and embraced Charlotte as our new home. Her death is a significant loss for the city we both came to love. My thoughts are with her children, who are as smart & dynamic as their mother.”

Scarborough’s story is one of strength and resilience. She was born prematurely at a time when Black newborns were not guaranteed an incubator.

“She’s been fighting since birth. She was born premature; three pounds. At that time, Black babies weren’t guaranteed an incubator, so her little body had to fight just to exist,” Hannah Hasan wrote in a column about Scarborough’s legacy in 2021.

“Her father created a ruckus and said his daughter was not going to die,” Commissioner Pat Cotham said in her remarks nominating Ella Scarborough to serve as chair of the board. “So newborn Ella integrated the ICU in the hospital in Sumter, S.C.”

As a teenager, Scarborough was arrested while protesting.

“Ella spent a week in a jail with 100-degree temperatures in Sumter as a teenager when she protested the Jim Crow laws of racial segregation,” Cotham said.

In recent years, Scarborough struggled with health and mobility issues. She was placed on medical leave in February 2021.

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Commissioner Ella Scarborough tonight. She inspired me with her warmth, her trailblazing, her courage, and her lifetime of service. She was truly beloved in this community and will be greatly missed,” Commissioner Leigh Altman said. “May her memory be a blessing to all who knew and loved her.”

“Trailblazer, public servant, dedicated, a force, legend—all words that describe Commissioner Ella Scarborough,” Commissioner Laura Meier said. “Much love to her family. May she rest In peace.”

Scarborough was a graduate of South Carolina State University and a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. She is survived by her two children, Troy and Tori, her siblings, Floydetta and Norman and her many nieces and nephews.

Condolences for the Scarborough family may be sent to P.O. Box 32302, Charlotte, NC, 28232.

Scroll down to see how Charlotte leaders are remembering Ella Scarborough:

Congresswoman Alma Adams released the following statement about Scarborough’s passing:

“I am so sorry to hear of Commissioner Scarborough’s passing. She was an extraordinary public servant who loved her God, her constituents and served our community and state admirably for decades.

“I considered her a friend and sister in the struggle for human and civil rights. She did for others and was always on the right side of the issues. Our community will miss her sweet spirit and charming personality. We are all better because of the life she lived and shared with so many.

“My prayers and thoughts will continue to be with her family.”

The Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg shared a statement with Channel 9, which read:

“BPC Family & Friends it is with sadness I am reaching out to inform you that one our own, Commissioner Ella Butler Scarborough, has passed away at the age of 75.

“She was many things including, a child of Sumter, South Carolina; civil rights activist; trail blazer; leader; inspiration; friend to many; and of utmost importance mother.

“Commissioner Scarborough came into this world fighting as she was born premature in a time where Black premature babies simply had little chance of surviving. Her fighting spirit continued, even when she was jailed as a teen for standing up for civil rights. Despite being faced in what most would deem insurmountable challenges, she spent her life fighting for justice and equality for Black citizens as evidenced in her life’s work. She was the first Black woman elected to Charlotte city council (1987-1997); Mecklenburg County Commissioner (2014-2022); past president of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., Tau Theta Zeta Chapter; former president of Black Women’s Caucus of Charlotte Mecklenburg “Blackberry Bunch”; and long-time active member of the BPC which is only a microcosm of her endeavors.”

The statement included text from Maya Angelou’s “When Great Trees Fall.”

“Caucus Family our mourning must not endure, but we must celebrate that Commissioner Ella Butler Scarborough existed and that we are better for it. The torch has been handed to us and we must proceed as she would.

“The details of her final her arrangements have not been released, but will be handled by Chris King Memorial Chapel, located at 121 Mobley Street, Chester, SC 29706.”

Statement from George Dunlap, the Chairman of the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners:

“Commissioner Scarborough was a trailblazer throughout her life, serving the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community in so many capacities, and fighting for racial justice and integration from an early age,” he said. “Her passion was limitless and her loss is immeasurable. Our prayers go out to her family, friends and the entire Mecklenburg County community that is a better place today due to her dedication.”

Statement from Dena Diorio, Mecklenburg County Manager:

“Working with Commissioner Scarborough for nearly my entire tenure as County Manager and her entire tenure on the Board opened my eyes to new perspectives on how to help our community,” Diorio said. “She had a boundless desire to serve, demonstrated every day since childhood by her commitment to neighbors and fellow residents, especially communities of color and women. She was incredibly kind, had a beautiful heart and her steady voice, guidance and leadership will be greatly missed by myself and the thousands of employees who serve Mecklenburg County government.”

(Watch the video below: Commissioners vote to pay Ella Scarborough while on leave and appoint interim replacement)