KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Sarah Moore Greene, a Knoxville Civil Rights activist, educator and community leader, died Wednesday morning, according to her godson.
Greene had turned 102 in February. She was born on February 22, 1910.
Her godson, John Sibley, said Greene was taken to Tennova Physicians Regional Medical Center Monday to be treated for dehydration. He was called about her death at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Sibley said Greene had been in Holston Health & Rehabilitation Center for the last month and had respiratory issues following pneumonia.
"Her spirit did not waiver," Sibley said. "She was always up, although sometimes she would be in pain. She was amazing. She would smile and even laugh. Up until the end, she was helping people at the rehab facility."
Sibley also said, "She was ready to go. She got tired, at 102 that's understandable."
Sarah Moore Greene Elementary School on Brooks Road was named for her in 1974. The school became a magnet school in 1996, with an emphasis in technology. A greenway that also bears Greene's name was dedicated in 2009.
The school and greenway are concrete examples of Greene's legacy, but the people who knew her best said her true legacy lies in the hearts of the people she helped throughout her life.
"I think Sarah Moore Greene will be remembered as an activist, and I don't just mean in the theoretical way, but she was known by what she did and that's the best way to be known," said Pastor Johnnie Skinner, of Mount Zion Baptist Church.
Greene was a member of the church for more than 50 years and although she didn't have children of her own, Skinner said the community was her family.
"She believed in helping people. She helped people get jobs. She advocated for people," he said.
Rev. Harold Middlebrook knew Greene for more than 40 years, as a mentor and a friend.
"She was a champion. She was a hard worker. She gave herself constantly to make life better for everybody, a young girl from Madisonville who came to Knoxville to make a name and an impression," Middlebrook recalled.
Greene was the first African-American to serve on the Knoxville Board of Education, and she pushed to implement the kindergarten program in the city schools.
"Ms. Greene impacted thousands, if not millions of young people in our community and across the state to make sure they had a better education and better life," said Knox County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre.
Dr. McIntyre worked with Greene over the last several years.
Each February, the students at her elementary school threw a birthday bash for Greene. She was known for telling people she enjoyed the children more than anything including her cake and presents.
"We are truly saddened to learn of the passing of Ms. Sarah Moore Greene," said school Principal Reggie Mosley. "Our community has benefited tremendously from her contributions to this school and she will be greatly missed. Ms. Greene was the epitome of a servant leader and her legacy will continue to have an enormous impact on the education of our children for many years to come."
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero recalled those celebrations as an incredible opportunity for the city's children.
"It was great for them to see someone who should be in the history books and to learn about what happened when there was a time when we weren't as open and equal in Knoxville and the rest of the country to actually meet someone who was there, and was a leader of that fight was important," Mayor Rogero said.
Mayor Tim Burchett released this statement: "Sarah Moore Greene was a dear friend of my family. She lived an amazing life dedicated to our community. I can remember going to school board meeting as a little boy with her and my father. They forged an incredible relationship, and I think one of the things my father was most proud of was helping to name a school after Sarah at a time when recognizing African Americans wasn't at all popular. Her wonderful personality and spirit will be missed."
Greene was also the first African-American to serve as a Tennessee delegate to the Republican National Convention. She also served as a state and local president for the NAACP.
For current Knoxville NAACP President Sheryl Rollins, Greene was an inspiration.
"What it has meant to me was to realize as a female, the only barriers that you have are the ones that you let yourself accept. Ms. Greene was a leader at a time when many women were not involved in politics. She was very active in the Republican party," Rollins said.
Congressman John J. Duncan, Jr., also released a statement: "Sarah Moore Greene was a long time close friend of my father. When he was mayor, they worked very closely together to help lead the peaceful integration of the city of Knoxville. She was one of the great leaders of the African American community, but also a great leader for all of the people of Knoxville. I had such respect and admiration for her that I had her as a part time member of my district staff during some of my early years in Congress. This nation is a better place today because of the work of Sarah Moore Greene. I will miss her and her passing is a loss for our entire country."
Sen. Lamar Alexander said, "Sarah Moore Greene's century of life sets an example for all of us. Her commitment to fairness and her kindness toward others made her a beloved citizen not just of our state, but of our nation."
For a century, Sarah Moore Greene worked to help others. Now they will be the ones to carry on Greene's legacy.
"Her shoes will never be filled. Her legacy will endure for many years to come," said Rollins. "As long as you have children who remember being touched by her, who have reaped the benefits of her dedication to education and Civil Rights, she will always be a part of this community."
Flags at all Knox County Schools, government facilities and the flag outside the City County Building were flown at half-staff Wednesday in honor of Greene.
On Monday, August 20, Jarnigan and Sons Mortuary will hold a Service of a Life Well Lived from 6:00-8:00 p.m. at Mount Zion Baptist Church, 2714 Brooks Road.
Tuesday, August 21 will be a Home-Going Service at Greater Warner Tabernacle, 3800 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue starting at 10:00 a.m.