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Ernestine Tobias Felder, Charleston Civil Rights Grand Dame Passes At 93
7/15/2015 1:05:50 PM

Ernestine Tobias Felder
By Barney Blakeney

“I’m not tired. I can still do the Electric Slide so I’m going to keep on working until God takes me away.” That’s how Ernestine Tobias Felder, the grand dame of the Charleston civil rights movement ended a 2002 interview.

God took her away July 13 after a lengthy illness. She was 93 and passed away one week before her 94th birthday July 21.

Mrs. Felder, who grew up on Addison Street in Charleston’s North Central community, was the widow of Handy Felder and the mother of seven children. She began her work as a civil rights advocate spurred by the dramatic effect inequality had on her own life.

As a young girl she often ran home from Burke High School through Hampton Park to Addison Street. She said she ran through the park because Blacks weren’t allowed there. She had to run or face being caught and punished by intolerant whites.

As a young woman she experienced the death of her grandfather, a landowner in Ravenel who was killed after refusing to give up part of the property he owned to whites. And she would experience the death of a neighbor killed randomly as part of medical experiments.

Mrs. Felder vowed to see that her children didn’t experience the racial discrimination she had experienced.

During the 1940s she became active with the Charleston NAACP working alongside such staunch civil rights activists as J. Arthur Brown, ‘Big’ John Chisolm and Herbert U. Fielding. She helped form the Charleston NAACP’s first youth group.

Later she helped form Charleston’s first branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and served as president of the Congress Of Racial Equality (CORE) many years. She has worked with national and international civil rights advocates and has traveled the nation and globe to further the cause of equality.

She received numerous recognitions for her service. In 2002 Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley and Charleston City Council proclaimed Jan. 25 Ernestine Tobias Felder Day. During that week she received four different awards and recognitions for her tireless community service - from the U.S. Coast Guard Group Charleston, the YWCA Harvey Gantt Triumph Award, a recognition from friends and family in the Summerville community and the Martin L. King Jr. Community Service Award. In 2001 she received the state’s highest award, the Order of the Palmetto.

Mrs. Felder is survived by four daughters: Eleanor Long, Cassandra Coaxum, Iona Soodoo and Angelena Mitchell; three sons: Rodney Felder, Mallory Felder and Jerome Aiken and several adopted children.

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