GREENVILLE — Lila Mae Brock had ambitions to help the world, but found she could do invaluable work in her own community.
For years, she worked as a cafeteria worker at Greenville County schools, and upon her retirement from the Civil Rights Movement, she sought to heal the neglect of her beloved southern community.
Now, as the multimillion-dollar Unity Park in this community nears its opening, a prominent corner nearby is adorned with a statue in its honor. On April 19, Brock’s descendants, a host of civic leaders and private donors gathered at the corner of West Washington and Hudson streets across from the U.S. Post Office to unveil the statue and dedicate the plaza that is his home.
One of Brock’s many grandchildren in attendance, Christiann Brock Moses, spoke at the ceremony and said that in today’s social media culture, her grandmother would have been a well-followed influencer, fueled not by his pedigree but by his passion.
“She was an ordinary woman with an extraordinary gift – a gift for reaching out to others,” Moses told a crowd of dozens. “She made people want to get to know her. But more importantly, when you’re done interacting with her, you leave energized and inspired to do something.
Brock’s work was largely confined to the close-knit, predominantly black community west of downtown. For decades, Southernside – named in part for the Norfolk-Southern Railway that runs through it – has suffered from decadence caused by racist public policy and divestment.
It’s only in the past decade that the city and private investors have begun to reinject resources, bringing both new prosperity and the specter of gentrification that has forced some longtime residents out.
Unity Park, a $71 million project set to open next month that has transformed 60 acres of low-lying land that once served as a city dump, has been marketed as an effort to come to terms with this sordid history.
“Miss Lila Mae was very passionate about the Southernside community and believed in a bright future,” said Moses.
Former U.S. Secretary of Education and Governor Dick Riley quoted what he said was one of Brock’s favorite quotes from the New Testament, Luke 12:48: a lot.
From his own kitchen, Brock served the needy, he said.
She later received the Order of the Palmetto, the state’s highest honor for a citizen.
“Lila Mae Brock was a leader for good,” Riley said. “Being a leader is one thing. She was a leader for good. Anything she did would fall into that category.”
Brock, the mother of current longtime councilwoman Lillian Brock Flemming, was born in 1915 and moved to Southernside in 1938.
After retiring from her role as a cafeteria worker in the 1970s, she partnered with churches and local organizations to provide food, clothing, medical services and jobs.
She founded the Southernside Community Center, which offered meal programs, youth and senior programs and activities, and language classes. In partnership with the city, she helped provide job training and childcare while helping community residents become homeowners.
She was instrumental in creating 68 affordable units in the nearby Brockwood Senior Housing complex.
Brock died in February 1996.
Follow Eric on Twitter at @cericconnor.