First African American Mayor of Lynchburg dies

M.W. Thornhill Jr. passed away Saturday (Photo: Courtesy of Thornhill family)

LYNCHBURG, Va. (WSET) -- The first African American Mayor of Lynchburg and renowned civil rights activist, M.W. "Teedy" Thornhill Jr. passed away Saturday. Those who knew him say he was 95 years young and those who stood with him in the Civil Rights movement say his passion for equality changed Lynchburg forever.

Although his family says he was battling an illness for several years, he remained strong in spirit.

"He was one of the most respected men in the state of Virginia." Walter Fore says he was just 15 years old when he met the man who would become his mentor. "He instilled in us dignity and respect, in spite of the fact that this is the 60's and you could be spat upon or cursed," shared Fore, the former President of the Lynchburg Voter's League.

Here's a little bit about Thornhill's legacy: He was the business owner of Community Funeral home on historic 5th Street. He served on the Lynchburg City Council from 1976 to 1992. The last two years of his tenure, he held the position of Mayor.

Friends say he was most proud of the work he did for the voter league where he was president and a lifelong member.

During the civil rights movement, Fore was working as a union rep when M.W. Thornhill called him to become part of the voter's league - a group that worked tirelessly to educate both black and white voters, and get them registered.

Thornhill stood alongside leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis and Doug Wilder, to name a few -- connecting Fore with many of them along the way. "Always at the pulse of everything. Sharp and organized he led the voter's league for years and at that time the voter's league was strong and it's in his memory we are going to make it strong again," explained Pastor James E. Coleman.

Fore says seeing Thornhill become Mayor in 1976 was a shining moment; "To see Teedy take that oath of office, to me, the Civil Rights Movement was complete."

From then until the end of his run in 1992, Fore says Thornhill was always respected by folks on both sides of the aisle. "Mr. Thornhill gave so much of himself to help everybody. His name will live forever."

His funeral will be held this Saturday, at Court Street Baptist, where he was a member for several years. A time has yet to be announced.

If you wish to pay your respects on Friday July 8, Thornhill will lie in state from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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