|Esther Mae Huntley
May 7, 1921 – January 11, 2021
Esther Mae Huntley was born in Fayetteville, NC on May 7, 1921 to the late Rufus and Margaret McNeill of
Elizabethtown, NC. Entering her centennial year, Esther Mae passed away quietly on January 11, 2021 at
the Bladen Health & RehabilitationnCenter in Elizabethtown.
Esther Mae attended Port Washington High School in Port Washington, NY. She graduated from North
Carolina Agricultural and Technical College in 1944 with a degree in Home Economics. While there she
was initiated into Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. — Zeta Alpha chapter.
Upon graduation, she relocated to New York City where she worked in retail and eventually landed a job
with Head Start. She became a true crusader for Head Start, helping to establish many facilities and
implementing the program throughout the metropolitan area.
In 1947, while in New York she met and married Floyd Vernon Huntley. She had three beautiful children,
twin daughters, Micheline and Frances, and a few years later Karen.
In 1955, she earned her Early Childhood Education certificate at Bank Street College of Education, NY,
where she wrote a research paper entitled “The First Two Years – Living at Home with Twins”.
In 1957, building on her Head Start experience, Esther Mae opened Rainbow Nursery School, providing
the first licensed day care facility in Bladen and surrounding NC counties. She became an influential Black
businesswoman. In order to better sustain her business and family, she traveled and worked between
New York and North Carolina. In 1972, she settled permanently in Elizabethtown and continued to operate
her daycare center. She served as the role model for the Bladen County Day Care system, helping others
to open their own facilities. In 1979, Esther Mae became the first Black female elected to serve on the
Elizabethtown City Council. She served two consecutive terms.
She was truly a woman ahead of her time.
Esther Mae was active in the community throughout her lifetime. She was a member of Mt. Zion A.M.E.
Zion Church in Elizabethtown, NC, the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials, National
Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), and the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She worked on behalf of these organizations, locally, nationally
Esther Mae Huntley was a Bladen County pioneer when it came to childcare and politics. Civil rights,
family, love of music and dancing were all fabrics of her life! She believed in introducing people to the
world outside of Bladen County and often organized trips locally, nationally and even abroad. She played a
pivotal role in the education and success of thousands of children. It was her belief that love, reading
and an education were the keys to success — every child deserves that chance!
A small family graveside service was held on January 16, 2021 in Elizabethtown NC. Due to the
Coronavirus pandemic, a virtual celebration of life will be held at a later date.
She is survived by three daughters Micheline Huntley of Lagos, Portugal; Frances Huntley-Cooper
(Alphonso Cooper) of Fitchburg WI; Karen Kellam (Arthur) of Spring Lake, NC; three Grandchildren: Ilka
Huntley-McElveen (Freddie) of Elizabethtown NC, Akil J. Cooper of Waunakee WI, Hasina Davidson (Jason)
of Mooresville NC; eleven Great Grandchildren: Freddrianna McElveen-Martin (Trent) of Modesto, CA;
Myesha Cooper (Gerald); Tavonda McElveen of Fayetteville, NC; Tyrese, Tatianna, Jair, Saeed McElveen
of Elizabethtown, NC; Akil M. and Kadin Cooper of Madison, WI; Amira and Zariah Davidson of
Mooresville, NC and one Great-Great-Grandchild Gabriel Martin of Modesto, CA.
The family of Esther Mae Huntley is sincerely grateful for the many acts of kindness shown during our time
of bereavement. Also, a special thanks to the caretakers at Bladen Health & Rehabilitation Center who
provided her with compassionate care over the last two years. In lieu of flowers, the family of Esther
Huntley request that you consider donations to: North Carolina A&T Foundation, Inc., designated for “The
Esther Mae Huntley Memorial Scholarship”, c/o North Carolina A&T State University, University
Advancement, 1601 East Market Street, Suite 400, Greensboro, NC 27411