Former Greenville mayor dies, leaves behind legacy of integration

GREENVILLE, S.C.(WSPA) –  Greenville’s first republican mayor has died.

Former mayor R. Cooper White was 90 when he died on Saturday. He was mayor from 1969 to 1971. During that time, he was responsible for smoothly integrating schools in the city.

Mayor Cooper White was a Greenville City Councilman for six years before running for mayor. People remember him as one of the most forward-thinking mayors in the city’s history.

“Cooper White swore me in as mayor,” said current Greenville Mayor, Knox White.

Mayor White says Cooper White was his political hero.

“He was kind of a change agent for Greenville,” White said. “He was one of our first modern mayors.”

Even though there’s no relation between the two, Mayor White helped with the former mayor’s election campaign and says they were long-time family friends.

“He did a lot of things to make sure the city of Greenville was seen as an open place, a fair place, and city government was seen as looking after all the neighborhoods of the city,” White said.

He is responsible for putting parks and green spaces in minority neighborhoods. However, most notably, White was mayor during the federal order to de-segregate schools.

“He gets a lot of credit, as he should, for being a real leader and making sure Greenville did things the right way,” White said.

White partnered with the NAACP and held community meetings, a couple that Councilwoman Lillian Brock Flemming remembers attending.

“He was amazing in appealing to the community that we all have to work together,” Flemming said.

When it was time to integrate schools, it went smoothly. Greenville even got praise from Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News as one of the first teachers to integrate a Greenville school remembers.

“Things were tense, but they weren’t out of hand,” said Sylvia Palmer, the first African-American teacher to integrate what was then Greenville Junior High.

Mayor White says the former mayor was also the first person to really focus on downtown development in the city and was able to see the result of his planning decades later.

“He did things that were not always popular,” White said. “He did things that were frankly downright courageous at the time, and he paid a political price for it from time to time, but he was also someone who was always challenging the city to go to the next level, to do something different, something bold, that Greenville could be something bigger and better.”

White’s funeral will be Saturday at 3 p.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church on Augusta Rd.

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