Virginia trailblazer reflects on career as first African American female mayor for Clifton Forge
CLIFTON FORGE, Va. (WDBJ) - Pamela Marshall paved the way in Clifton Forge as the town’s first African American female mayor.
“Anytime you’re the first anything is hard,” Marshall said. “I feel like maybe that was my role, just to open the door for the next person.”
Marshall may be most well known for her three years serving on Clifton Forge’s town council. But her story in public service begins decades earlier, at a park in her hometown.
“On Sundays, everybody that we knew was at Green Pastures,” Marshall said. “It was just family, fellowship, food.”
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Marshall grew up spending time at Green Pastures, the only park for African Americans in the area during segregation in the 1930s to the late 1950s.
“It was a happy place in my memories because even though we were integrated [at that time], we lived segregated,” Marshall said. “This area [near Green Pastures] is part of it, what they now call the East End, at that time they called it the Black section.”
Marshall moved away from the East End and onto Washington D.C., where she worked for the FBI for 32 years.
“I retired in 2014, and I came back here and thought I’d get a part time gig maybe at the newspaper, because I always wanted to write,” Marshall said.
She came home to the park, which once held so many memories, deteriorating.
“I went down to cover the story for the newspaper, and to watch it fall into disrepair the way it did, it was very disheartening,” Marshall said.
Seeing the place she loved so much as a child, now overgrown and in disrepair, was a call to action. Marshall joined the Friends of Green Pastures and worked with federal and state agencies to secure restoration funding, grants and eventually a historical dedication, to save the park.
“When we reopened it, it was like a fresh awakening,” Marshall said. “We have our park back, we have our history back.”
Saving the park wasn’t the only thing on Marshall’s mind. While covering town council meetings for the newspaper, she developed a new goal.
“For four years I recorded those meetings, and then I was thinking, I think maybe I can add to this council,” Marshall said.
In 2019, Marshall became the first African American female town council member, vice mayor, and eventually, mayor.
“The people came out in record numbers, I ran as a different voice,” Marshall said.
In the years before her resignation in 2022, she explained that she worked to bridge the gap between the community and law enforcement, connect various churches in town and pushed for accessibility and inclusivity.
“I went as far as I could, in that position,” Marshall said. “I accomplished all the goals I wanted to accomplish.”
When looking back at her career, Marshall explained none of it measures up to her proudest achievement.
“Having my daughter. I have one child. That’s my daughter,” Marshall said. “I think she was the best thing that I did in this life.”
Marshall’s is a life and legacy that will soon be shared in a book about her experiences as the first African American female mayor.
“I’ve never written a book before,” Marshall laughed. “But I’m working on it.”
Pamela Marshall was one of the first to break down barriers in Southwest Virginia, but she hopes she won’t be the last.
“We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go,” Marshall said. “I think that I have done all that good, so it’s somebody else’s turn now.”
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