Durham's Elna Spaulding, 97, dies

Staff WriterJanuary 9, 2007 

— Elna B. Spaulding, founder and former president of Women-In-Action for the Prevention of Violence and its Causes Inc., died Sunday. She was 97.

Born and raised on an Alabama farm, Spaulding was married for 57 years to Asa T. Spaulding Sr., the former president of Durham's N.C. Mutual Life Insurance Co. He died in 1990.

A longtime community leader who served on the Durham County Board of Commissioners for 10 years, Elna Spaulding was perhaps best known for her role in creating Women-In-Action, an interracial, nonprofit group that focused on family violence and sought to bring people of divergent views together to hash out their differences.

The group wanted to "get past the rhetoric and deal with the issues," her son, Aaron Spaulding, said Monday.

Elna Spaulding felt the issue of family violence cut across racial and socioeconomic lines, Aaron Spaulding said. Both of his parents were raised on farms, and their respect for the earth helped form a belief system they followed through their lives, he said.

"When you grow up in that environment, when life is literally day to day, you really develop a sense of, and an appreciation for, working together," he said. "Everybody's land is treated equally by Mother Nature."

Born in Tuskegee Institute, Ala., and educated at Talladega College, Spaulding taught music in Durham's public schools and at Winston-Salem Teachers College. She was elected a county commissioner in 1974 and served until 1984. She was a member of dozens of civic groups and was honored by numerous local organizations for her work. In 1992, Duke University awarded her an honorary doctorate.

"She lived a good life and shared that good life with others," said MaryAnn Black, a longtime friend and former chairwoman of the county commissioners. "She felt an obligation to this town and an obligation to help the poor of this town."

Spaulding is survived by four children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

The family will receive friends from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at White Rock Baptist Church on Fayetteville Street. The funeral will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at the church.

Contributions may be made to Triangle Community Foundation, designated for the Asa T. and Elna B. Spaulding Endowment Fund, 4813 Emperor Blvd., Suite 130, Durham, NC 27703.

Staff writer Eric Ferreri can be reached at 956-2415 or eferreri@newsobserver.com.

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