Larry Womble, an educator and advocate for minorities who held elected positions in Winston-Salem and Raleigh, has died at the age of 78. Womble died Thursday, according to Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough. The cause of death wasn’t immediately clear Thursday morning.
Womble’s political career spanned more than three decades but ended when he was injured in a car crash that killed the driver of another car, the Winston-Salem Journal reported.
Womble was born June 6, 1941 in Winston-Salem. After completing his studies at Atkins High School, he enrolled in Winston-Salem State University, graduating in 1963.
He returned to the Winston-Salem public school system as a teacher and remained in education while his political career flourished.
Civic involvement came naturally to him. He was known as a community organizer for leading an effort to improve conditions at the ru- down Columbia Terrace neighborhood off Stadium Drive (now called Rams Drive).
He made his first run for office in 1977, running for a seat on the Board of Alderman (now City Council) in the racially mixed Southeast Ward.
He forced a runoff in the Democratic primary with incumbent Eugene F. Groce. The showdown became racially charged when Groce sent a letter to white voters noting that “our black citizens” had a higher turnout than whites in the primary and that he needed support from white voters to win. Womble was black. Groce was white.
Womble supporters blasted the letter as racist. Groce insisted it was a compliment to black voters for their turnout. Groce prevailed in the runoff.
For Womble, 1981 was a milestone year. In May, the North Carolina Association of Educators named him the Assistant Principal of the Year. The group cited his community activism for his work with such local groups as the Experiment in Self-Reliance, the Arts Council the NAACP and the city-county library board. At the time, Womble served as the assistant principal of Old Town Elementary.
Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines on Friday released the following statement on the death of former board of alderman and state representative Larry Womble:
“On behalf of the citizens of Winston-Salem, I extend my deepest sympathies and condolences to the family and friends of former N. C. State Representative Larry Womble. Representative Womble had been a strong voice for the rights of the underprivileged while he served on the board of alderman and later as a state representative. We remember his work as an alderman in pushing for downtown development of residential housing many, many years ago before it became an accepted concept. We also recognize Representative Womble’s contributions in getting state legislation passed for financial compensation to be made to victims of the forced sterilization program.”