Longtime Keysville mayor Emma Gresham dies at 92

Emma Gresham
Emma Gresham(WRDW)
Published: Mar. 5, 2018 at 4:04 PM EST
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Saturday, March 10, 2018

(News 12 at 11)

KEYSVILLE, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Today, family and friends from all over the country came to one small town for former Keysville Mayor Gresham. She held office for fifteen years. She left her seat back in 2005, she left a legacy on Monday.

The area that was filled with people mourning just hours ago is now being broken down and packed up.

"It was nothing she wouldn't do for you, nothing."

Longtime Keysville Mayor Emma Gresham was laid to rest in an afternoon funeral. Just after, the town held a parade in her honor because, Gresham, the family says, just loved parades.

"She had to go to court twice because the whites in the community wanted to change the boundaries--there had not be an elected official in Keysville since 1933." Brenda Jackson continued, "the people in, especially the poor blacks, they wanted someone. And she was the right person."

Others knew her as mayor, Brenda Jackson knew her as "aunt."

"Aunt Emma was the matriarch of the family. She was my father's last sibling and the baby of the family. She was born in 1925."

And voted into office here in 1985. Keysville's population is just 304. It's a small town in Burke County but Gresham's impact was anything but.

"She had to fight to keep this position."

She fought for five years until her position was recognized. It wasn't until 1990 that the federal court upheld the 1985 elections which let Gresham keep her seat in office. Once in official in office, she got to work.

"It was the Kellog Foundation. They gave her money to help bring back water and roads in the community of keysville," jackson explained.

Under Gresham's 15 year tenure the town also got this municipal building. One that helped bring development to an under-served community. Development like a water and sewer service, street lights, a fire department, library, post office, wastewater treatment plant, and an after-school program.

"She could've moved back and did nothing but she didn't." Her niece proudly added, "she moved back to make sure the life was better for other people in Keysville."

If you take a look around Keysville, it may not seem like much--

"basic neccessities like running water, lights, alot of those things were never had."

If you look again, the town's first black female mayor being laid to rest is not the end. It's just the beginning for this small community's efforts to keep moving forward.

Gresham made history as one of only two African American female chief elected officials in the entire state of Georgia.

Monday, March 5, 2018

KEYSVILLE, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Former Keysville Mayor Emma Gresham has died, she was 92-years-old.

According to her biography from the Boggs Rural Life Center, Gresham was born on April 13, 1925, in Reidsville, Ga. and graduated from Boggs Academy at the age of 15. She was a 1953 honor graduate of Paine College. She is only the second African American female to be a chief elected official in Georgia.

Gresham ran for Mayor of Keysville, a small town in Burke County, in 1985. Six black residents were voted in as new Mayor and Council of the town's first government since 1933. Gresham reportedly held the position of Mayor for five hours when a Superior Court judge in Augusta revoked the city's charter.

National news coverage in 1989 and a recorded oral history from the town's oldest resident led to a federal court upholding the elections. On June 4, 1990, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's ruling.

Gresham was mayor of Keysville until 2005. Under her tenure, the town developed a water and sewer service, received street lights, a fire department, library, post office, wastewater treatment plant, after-school program, and a municipal building.

News 12 archives show Gresham received an award from Essence Magazine in 2000 which honored African Americans who've contributed to their communities. Gresham has a library at the former Boggs Academy named in her honor, the Emma Gresham African American Research Library & Cultural Center.

Gresham's celebration of life services will be held Friday, March 9 at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church at 623 Crawford Avenue in Augusta from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. There will be a public viewing and an opportunity to share memories and tributes. Her official service will be held Saturday, March 10 at 11 a.m. at the Gilbert-Lambuth Memorial Chapel at Paine College. A final parade will take place through Keysville immediately following the memorial services and she will lie in state at Mount Tabor African Methodist Episcopal Church from 3-4 p.m. Saturday before being interred at the church cemetery.