Educator, Activist Thomasina Gelzer McPherson Lived Black History

Thomasina McPherson

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.


  1. Daniel H. McDowell on March 8, 2019 at 5:42 pm

    AMEN! To the article on Ms. McPherson, having grown up in Accabee on the same street with her family and having her sons and my brother to be the best of friends. I would like to ad to the article that she was one of the most important and respected persons in the neighborhood, when she spoke everyone paid attention and if she called you or your parents, every thing stopped and you go to her, no question asked. In closing, I would like to say that if we had more people like her we would be truly the land of the free and the home of the brave.
    As a nation would be a much better place for all of us.

  2. Freddie Middleton on March 9, 2019 at 4:29 pm

    Fascinating Woman . Thank you for making her accomplishments known . She is a distant cousin of mines that I never had the pleasure of meeting and knowing . Thank you so much Charleston Chronicle !

  3. Carla on March 9, 2019 at 7:38 pm

    Thank u for sharing that information needed to know so much is unknown

  4. J McPherson on March 11, 2019 at 1:14 pm

    Thanking those responsible for the publishing, and I thank you all for your comments!! She was my grandmother and everything mentioned and more!!! We as a family are dedicated to uphold her legacy!! We love and miss her dearly!!

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