Change Makers: Claude and Beccye Fawcett, breaking barriers and serving the community
(WBNG) -- February is Black History Month and all month long, WBNG will be highlighting “change makers” from the Southern Tier.
The series starts with a couple, Claude and Beccye Fawcett, who were pillars of the community for decades.
A member of their church who was close with the couple, Brenda Cave-James sat down with 12 News to reflect on their life and legacy.
“The Fawcett’s, oh my goodness, they were the elders of my church,” said Cave-James. “Very respected through the church and community.”
Claude and Beccye Fawcett both grew up outside the Southern Tier, but each made their way to Binghamton in the 1930′s and 1940′s. Claude during his military service and Beccye with her first husband, who was a minister.
“He [Claude] was stationed here with the then colored troops for WWII and that’s when he met his wife Beccye Fawcett,” said Cave-James. “At the time she was Mrs. Beccye Lightford, Reverend Lightford. She was the first woman to be ordained in our church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.”
Beccye’s first husband passed away and that is when she and Claude connected. A union that would last more than 50 years.
“The two met and they clicked,” said Cave-James. “They were like two peas in a pod, really. Both were very social, they were just into everything. He was a chef, he was a photographer, she was an activist, a public speaker and speak out she did about everything. Race relations, discrimination, women’s rights, and history. I was blessed to know the Fawcetts, they inspired me. My late husband Freddy James and myself, we took care of Mr. Fawcett in his last years, so we were very blessed to come into his papers and photographs and Mrs. Fawcett’s papers.”
Claude was known for his culinary skills creating elaborate Hawaiian feasts. He was also a small business owner and an avid photographer, capturing the African American community’s social and religious life.
Beccye was the first African American employed at the Binghamton Public Library, a career that spanned over three decades, but it came with its struggles.
“She initially was not at the right pay grade and they told her to take it or leave it, and she went into the bathroom and cried,” said Cave-James. “She was going to walk out, but she knew if she did it would be a struggle and more years before another black woman was hired in that position or hired by the county.”
She was also a playwright, putting on productions in their church and community and started the first gospel radio program in the area.
Civic engagement and leadership were also integral parts of both Beccye’s and Claude’s day-to-day life.
Beccye was the first minority to serve as secretary for Church Women United, the League of Women Voters, the Inter-Racial Association, and the first president of Semper Fidelis, just to name a few.
Claude was a former Master of the Prince Hall Masons, served as treasurer for their church, and was active in community clubs and boards too numerous to mention.
“They had the fight in them because they were equal and they were educated and they were proud,” said Cave James. “They would say we’re here and we have a right to be here, and God created man, man did not create man, no man is going to tell another of God’s creations that they do not belong and that they cannot be.”
Cave-James said education was always at the forefront of their activism.
“In their union they did not have any children, but they adopted a lot of young people in the community,” said Cave-James. “They sponsored people in college, they did a lot of things that nobody knew about because they didn’t advertise it, but they just did it behind the scenes.”
The two are empowering young people still to this day.
“They were good examples; they were movers and shakers,” said Cave-JAmes. “They wanted to bring the next generation along and they certainly paid their dues.”
Beccye passed away in 1995 followed by Claude in 2005.
12 News will highlight Change Makers throughout the community for all of February.
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