Congresswoman Eva Clayton
Before she made history in the U.S. House of Representatives, Eva Clayton stayed busy with school, church, Girl Scouts and more in Augusta, Ga. The first in her family to attend college, Clayton studied biology at Charlotte’s Johnson C. Smith University, aspiring to become a doctor missionary. Her work with the American Friends Service Committee shaped her aspirations to help others.
“It influenced me in wanting to see how you can bring change without anger or war,” Clayton said. “I am one that wants to see how negotiations can go.”
In 1968, at the peak of the civil rights movement, the wife and mother of four made her first run for Congress. Dr. Reginald Hawkins, a Charlotte physician running for governor, planned a rally in Clayton’s district where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would speak. But a week before the rally, King was killed. Though she was defeated, the campaign helped raise African American voter registration to its highest level in state history.
“That created such fervor,” Clayton said. “This was something we had to do – civil rights, to vote – because Dr. King gave his life for equality and the right to vote.” In the years that followed, Clayton became involved in a multitude of projects, including Soul City and rural health. She also was appointed to serve as assistant secretary for community development for the N.C. Department of Natural Resources and Community Development and served on the Warren County Board of Commissioners from 1982 to 1990.
In 1992, she made history as the first woman ever elected to Congress from North Carolina – and the first African American since 1901.
After retiring from Congress, Clayton worked with the United Nations Food Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, addressing food security issues worldwide. She remains active as an independent consultant and sits on several international, national, and state boards.
Despite her myriad accomplishments, Clayton emphasized the importance of collaboration and cooperation.
“You don’t do anything by yourself,” Clayton said. “Achievement comes when you can bring people together and work on a mutual goal.”