Dr. E. Lavonia Allison – Steeped in the Struggle for Justice – GDN Exclusive, Vol. 2 Part IIby Cash Michaels, GDN Contributing Writer January 9, 2019
Few civil rights veterans have the eternal fire in their bellies for justice and equality like Dr. E. Lavonia Allison. And few have her undeniable track record of fighting for the Black community for well over 50 years.
Dr. Allison, believed to be in her 80’s (she won’t give her exact age), is best known for leading the Durham Committee of the Affairs of Black People (DCABP) for 14 years as its chair, vetting candidates for public office, and speaking out against policies that threatened to inhibit justice, and limit opportunities for her community.
But those 14 years of leadership were the culmination of decades of service to the DCABP in various leadership capacities, like chairing the Education Committee.
She cites “…being exposed to women [leaders] who were very strong…” as a key factor in her development and vision.
The Durham native attended then segregated Hillside High during the 1940’s, where she was taught to always set your goals high, and the color of your skin does not determine the strength of your character, or the limits of your capabilities. Dr. Allison’s father died in 1939 when she was young, leaving her mother to raise three girls in a segregated society. But Allison credits her mother with teaching her the importance of getting involved, and personally knowing some of the founders of, what was then, the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs, founded in 1935 by C.C. Spaulding.
“I was having experiences that said, ‘If you do get involved, you’re not going to change anything,” Dr. Allison told Greater Diversity News (GDN). “I’ve always felt the pressure of being engaged.”
That motto was further enhanced when Dr. Allison attended Hampton Institute, where she joined Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. in her freshman year.
It was 1968 when Allison, at the urging of her late husband, prominent Durham banker F.V. “Pete” Allison, chairman of Mutual Community Savings Bank, and chairman of the DCABP, was selected to be the First Vice Chair of the Durham County Democratic Party, the first woman to do so. She also credits prolific leaders like Democratic presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm in 1972, and National Council of Negro Women founder Dorothy Height for also showing her the importance of leadership.
“That was the beginning of a long list of leadership roles that I had the privilege of serving in,” she says, proudly looking back. It wasn’t long before she became what she has become known for – an intense practitioner of political organizing and mobilizing in order to know where the votes are in the community, and how to get them to the polls.
Dr. E. Lavonia Allison the go-to person during many critical national, statewide and local Durham elections
That knowledge has made Dr. E. Lavonia Allison the go-to person during many critical national, statewide and local Durham elections. Indeed, she was a huge influence in developing GDN’s recent successful “A Call to Colors” nonpartisan civic engagement campaign, which harnessed the involvement of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across North Carolina, and their national alumni associations, to both register and mobilize HBCU graduates and students during the recent 2018 midterm elections.
Phase II of that initiative is underway as all eyes look towards the 2020 presidential election, and Dr. Allison says while what happened in 2018 was essential and meaningful, the effort must learn from its mistakes to grow and improve, and attract more student, graduates and Divine Nine organizations.
“Black women need to come together, like they did in Georgia [and Alabama recent elections] she says. Allison also touts the February 5th “Free to Be” statewide Democratic voter precinct event to get citizens civically engaged, and ready for 2020.
“We need to mobilize and come together,” Allison told GDN. But she also believes that the importance of civic engagement is not being taught as it once was, and that needs to happen going forward.
“We need to do a whole lot better,” Dr. Allison insists.
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