By Barney Blakeney
As Black History Month comes to a close, profiles of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman resonate in a fading echo waiting to resurface next year. Although stories about modern day heroes of Black History such as Thomasina Gelzer McPherson seldom are told, they live on in the daily lives of those whom she touched.
During her more than four decades as an educator, McPherson spent most of those years teaching elementary school students at Mary Ford Elementary School in North Charleston. But she was more than a grade school teacher; to her four children, her grandchildren, great-grandchildren and to thousands of students, friends and neighbors she was a mother, nurturer, counselor, spiritual leader and political activist.
Thomasina McPherson, born Sept. 30, 1914 the only daughter of Christine Middleton Gelzer and Hamilton Gelzer, was raised by her grandmother Rebecca (Mama Susie) Gelzer and grew up in the Club House community of Dorchester County near Summerville. She graduated from Alston High School in Summerville, where she was an honor student and a star basketball player. She continued her education at South Carolina State University, receiving both her Bachelor of Science and Master of Education degrees in elementary education. She decided at an early age to become a school teacher and to follow Jesus. She pursued both desires passionately and determinately.
She married Jervey McPherson and the couple made their home in the Accabee community of North Charleston. For more than 60 years McPherson was a pillar in the community. She taught at Mary Ford, within walking distance from her home. Although she never abandoned her home church, Sandhill United Methodist, McPherson joined New Francis Brown United Methodist Church located only a couple of miles from her home and frequently sang, praised and served at other churches.
Beyond her role as wife and mother, McPherson’s school, church and community filled her busy and productive life. For years after her retirement from teaching, she served as a member of the Charleston County Constituent District Four School Board. An ardent advocate for civic and political action, McPherson was a vice president of the Accabee Concerned Citizens and worked diligently to insure every adult resident was registered to vote. The city’s political and civic leaders recognized her role in that respect and in 1992 the City of North Charleston honored her for her efforts recognizing her as the lone woman among 16 honorees for outstanding service to improving the quality of life in the city.
In 2001, at the urging of the Accabee Concerned Citizens, North Charleston City Council authorized the renaming of the street in front of Mary Ford Elementary School as Thomasina G. McPherson Boulevard in recognition of her many years teaching at the school and for her 44 years of exemplary service as an educator and for her service in that community.
McPherson served faithfully in fraternal, professional, and religious organizations in many capacities as well. She was a founding member and past Worthy Matron of the Queen Esther Chapter Number 166 Order of Eastern Star. Among her other affiliations were: The National Retired Teachers Association; Charleston Chapter of Retired Teachers Association; member of Heroines of Jericho, South Carolina Jurisdiction P.H.A. and Clemon Court Number 1 Prince Hall Affiliation; Lay Speaker Emeritus and Class Leader at New Francis Brown UMC; member of North Charleston Democratic Breakfast Club; the Charleston County Democratic Party; the National Council of Negro Women; the Accabee Concerned Citizens; and Past Executive Member of The North Charleston Branch NAACP.
McPherson died in 2003, but left a legacy that lives on in those who continue to serve because of her life and work. She is fondly remembered as mother, grandmamma, great grandmamma, role model, educator, evangelist, political activist, leader, worker, advocate, singer, nurturer, founder, motivator, and daughter of the Living King. Mrs. Thomasina (Tommie) Gelzer (Mrs. Mac) McPherson was known and revered as a virtuous woman.