C.W. Seay: From Dunbar to City Council

by Emily Kubota, Acting Curator

C.W. Seay while working as principal of Dunbar High School

As principal of Dunbar High School from 1938 to 1968, Mr. Clarence W. “Dick” Seay was a leading representative for the African American community in Lynchburg. He spoke out against injustices within the education system and encouraged black schools to hire black educators, administration, personnel, and to seek black leaders for the School Board. Seay ended his career with Dunbar in 1968 after leading the school to be one of the top rated black high schools in the segregated South. By July 1 of that same year, Seay began his career with Lynchburg College, today known as the University of Lynchburg. He held the position of Assistant Professor of Education and was the first and only African American to be employed by the school at the time. After two years as a professor, Seay resigned when he decided to become active with Lynchburg’s government.

R.S. Payne and Dunbar schools, 1954

Seay at Dunbar, 1964

In 1970, he was elected to City Council and in 1974 was re-elected for a second term. Seay had the distinction of being the first African American on Lynchburg City Council since the 1880’s, almost 100 years earlier. He held the position of vice mayor and also served on the Transportation, Finance, Bridge Construction, and Drug Abuse Committees.

In the 1974 election, he received over 6,000 votes, which was more than any other candidate that year. Based on his qualifications and public support, he expected to be elected by council as mayor, which was largely a ceremonial position. Instead, City Council elected incumbent Leighton Dodd, who came in fourth in the popular vote.

Seay’s campaign staff, c. 1970’s

Many City Council members believed Lynchburg was not ready for a black mayor and worried about the repercussions of electing a person of color to such a prestigious position. Lynchburg had only recently integrated its schools and race relations were still turbulent.  Seay’s supporters were outraged at council for overlooking him.  He briefly considered stepping down from council, but decided against it after African American leaders like Rev. Haywood Robinson, school board vice chairman Pauline Maloney, and NAACP spokesman O. C. Cardwell Jr., encouraged him to stay.

In 1978, Seay retired from City Council. During his years in office and up to his death in 1982 he was an active community member. He was involved with many local organizations, including United Way, the Lynchburg Planning Commission, American Red Cross, United Negro College Fund, NAACP, Jackson Street United Methodist Church, and many more.

Seay speaking in front of Dunbar, 1981. Courtesy of The News and Advance

Historic marker outside Seay’s Pierce Street home

Do you have any items or photographs of C.W. Seay? Do you know someone who does? The Lynchburg Museum System is actively seeking donations of items and material culture to better illustrate the history of our city. Please contact the museum at 434-455-6226, museum@lynchburgva.gov, or speak with a staff member. We’d love you hear from you!             

Sources:

Holmes, E. E., & Brown, C. G. (1986). Clarence William Seay [Booklet created by The Black- Focus Sub-committee of the Historic Redevelopment and Events Committee for the Bicentennial].

 Laurant, D. (2009, January 15). Clarence Seay: The man who would be mayor. News and Advance.