Hill remembered for her activism in Suffolk

Published 5:39 pm Friday, July 21, 2023

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Marie Brinkley Hill is being remembered for her community activism in Suffolk and as a “soldier for education.”

Hill died Sunday, July 9 at the age of 102.

Born on February 22, 1921, she received accolades that include the 2017 Community Activist Award from El Cel Sorts Club Temple Beth El, the NAACP Trailblazer award in February 2009 and the Certificate of Recognition Award for contributions to her community and service to Macedonia Baptist Church and to the Benevolent Protective Order 2005. 

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Hill also served as resource volunteer for the Virginia Department of Corrections and as chaplain officer of the Hobson Artesian Well Association.

Following her passing, Mayor Michael D. Duman, Vice Mayor Lue Ward and Cypress and Chuckatuck borough council members Leroy Bennett and Shelley Butler-Barlow praised her work during the July 19 council meeting. 

Ward recalled Hill coming to City Council meetings in a wheelchair with her daughter to stay involved in her community.

“She was instrumental and she made you want to get involved, because you don’t have no excuse not to come,” Ward said. “Anybody who wants to say they don’t want to come to council or you don’t want to be involved, just think about Ms. Hill. She did it. In a wheelchair she came along with her daughter.”

Her daughter Mary Hill, who also serves as a community activist, described her mother as “a magnet” and as someone who always wanted to help make life equitable for all in fairness.

“She marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968 when he came to Suffolk. She was very instrumental in the NAACP,” Mary said of her mother. “She was instrumental in integrating the [John Yeates High School Junior/Senior] school prom and my mother was one of the first parents to send their children to school when school had first integrated.”

With these achievements and contributions in Marie Hill’s life, many wouldn’t believe she only reached the seventh grade as a student of the segregated Hobson Graded School in Nansemond County. 

Despite this, through raising her nine children and supporting their educational success, Hill was able to live her own education through them.

In 2010, Hill pursued her dream of earning her high school diploma after much encouragement. Despite being legally blind in one eye and her right arm being limited, her drive and enthusiasm remained with every test she retook.

“I went to my mother and I told her, ‘Mama, you don’t have to keep doing this. They’re going to consider giving you an honorary.’ She told me ‘You better get a grip,’” Mary recalled. “‘I don’t want no honorary, I want the real thing!’”

She finally passed her test in June 2014, earning her GED  at age 93.

“She earned it at 93, but she marched with her class at 94,” Hill reflected. “And my brothers helped escort her across the stage.”

Mary said she knows her mother’s legacy will continue.

“Her legacy is going to stay well and it’s going to stay alive,” she said. “Not just for vanity, which is what my mother would say. She said, ‘This what we’re doing and the work that you have to do, it’s not for vanity. It’s for survival. So that’s what I have to do. That’s my calling moving forward.”