FIRST BLACK COUNCILWOMAN PASSES

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Rep. Sewell Announces Details of the Celebration of Life Services for her Beloved Mother, Nancy Gardner Sewell

Birmingham, AL – Today, Rep. Terri A. Sewell (AL-07) announced the details for the Celebration of Life Services for her mother, Nancy Gardner Sewell, who passed away at the age of 81 on Thursday, June 10, 2021 after a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. 

“My brother and I were blessed to have an amazing mother who blazed trails in education, public service, and community activism,” said Rep. Sewell. “As the first Black Councilwoman for the City of Selma, Nancy Gardner Sewell paved the way for the journey that now I have the privilege to travel as Alabama’s first Black Congresswoman.”

“My mother was the epitome of a servant leader from her more than 50-year commitment to serving underprivileged children in the Alabama Blackbelt to holding international positions in her beloved Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and to her lifelong dedication to uplifting the Selma-Dallas County community,” continued Sewell. “We know that our mother, Nancy Gardner Sewell, sowed many seeds and that her legacy will live on in the many lives that she impacted.”

Arrangements are as follows:

Friday, June 18, 2021  

11:00am CST – HOMEGOING SERVICES FOR NANCY GARDNER SEWELL

*Beulah Primitive Baptist Church

3304 County Road 37 South

Hope Hull, AL 36043 

*NOTE: This is Nancy’s family church where she grew-up.  The church was pastored by Nancy’s father and is currently pastored by her brother, Tom Gardner III.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

10:00am-12:00pm CST – LYING IN REPOSE 

Historic Brown Chapel AME Church 

410 Martin Luther King Street 

Selma, AL 36703 

*NOTE: Mask required; No Photos allowed

12:00pm CST –  MEMORIAL CELEBRATION OF LIFE OF NANCY GARDNER SEWELL

*Historic Brown Chapel AME Church 

410 Martin Luther King Street 

Selma, AL 36703 

*NOTE: This is Nancy’s home church where she was a faithful member for over 40 years.   She taught Sunday School and served as a member of the Board of Trustee of the Historic Brown Chapel AME Church and Secretary of the Historic Brown Chapel AME Church Preservation Society, Inc. (Foundation).

Interment:

New Live Oak Cemetery

22 Dallas Avenue

Selma, AL 36701

In Remembrance of

Nancy Gardner Sewell

(September 16, 1939 – June 10, 2021)

Nancy Gardner Sewell of Selma, AL, an exemplary educator, media specialist, civic leader, and a strong advocate for children passed away at the age of 81 on Thursday, June 10, 2021, surrounded by family after a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. 

Nancy Gardner Sewell was born on September 16, 1939, in Hope Hull, AL to Elder Tom Gardner Jr. and Effie Nell Gardner. She was the fourth born of the couple’s eight children. Being raised as a pastor’s kid, Nancy committed her life to Christ at an early age and became a member of Beulah Primitive Baptist Church in Hope Hull, AL, where her father pastored and her brother Elder Tom Gardner III currently pastors. 

Christ being the center of Nancy’s life, she dedicated herself to serving Him and serving others.

Nancy was a life member of Historic Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in Selma, AL for over 40 years where she served in numerous capacities. Most recently, she taught Sunday School and served as a member of the Board of Trustees, secretary of the Women’s Missionary Society and secretary of the Historic Brown Chapel AME Church Preservation Society, Inc. (Foundation).

An early achiever with a passion for learning and reading, Nancy graduated at the top of her class at Calhoun Laboratory High School in Letohatchee, AL in 1956.  She carried that same spirit of excellence to her studies at Alabama State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Social Studies and Library Science in 1960. Nancy went on to complete her Master’s Degree in Educational Media from Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana (1969); Certification in Library Sciencefrom Atlanta University, Atlanta, Georgia (1962); and Certification in Administration from the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL (1984).

Nancy Gardner Sewell became the first African American female elected to the Selma City Council in 1993 and tenaciously served the citizens of Ward 4 until her retirement in 2004. She initiated, secured, and received the State of Alabama’s only $1.3 million, annually, Digital Divide AmeriCorps Grant, awarded in September 2001 and currently benefiting not only Ward 4 but the entire City of Selma. 

Nancy Gardner Sewell was known throughout this nation, particularly, as she served in the capacity of the International Secretary of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (1990-1994) and the 18th South Eastern Regional Director of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (1986-1990); Library Media Specialist of the Selma City Schools for 36 years; and on the Selma City Council for 11 years (1993-2004). She currently served as one of two Advisors to Dr. Glenda Glover, International President of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

Nancy retired as the Head Librarian at Selma High School and the Library Media Specialist of the Selma City Schools after 36 years of service in 2003. As Coordinator of Libraries, she pioneered the development of libraries for the Selma City School System by planning and implementing the automation of all the libraries in the city. She implemented reading programs, such as the Accelerated Readers Program throughout the city’s elementary schools. 

Nancy has always been a strong advocate of reading and champion of literacy.  In 1973, she initiated the Reading Is Fundamental Program throughout the Southeastern region in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, and the reading programs that she initiated continue to distribute books throughout Selma-Dallas County and the Alabama Black Belt. Currently, The Reading Is Fundamental program provides thousands of books annually for underprivileged children. In 2016, Nancy expanded the Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) program to include the “Read for Success” Program during the summer months when children are at most risk of losing learning skills gained during the school year. During the 50th Anniversary of The National Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) Program, Nancy was recognized with a “Legacy of Literacy” Award for her support of RIF’s mission of providing books for children in need.

During her tenure on the Selma City Council, she re-organized the defunct Youth-in-Government program, providing the city’s youth a voice in city government. In addition, she chaired the League of Municipalities’ Human Development Committee and served on the National League of Cities’ Human Development Committee. She was an active member of Alabama Democratic Party, Alabama Democratic Conference, and Alabama New South Coalition. She proudly served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention serving as an Obama/Biden delegate (twice) and most recently serving as a Biden/Harris delegate to the 2020 DNC convention. 

Nancy G. Sewell was a distinguished member of numerous organizations.  She served as past president of the Selma Education Association and Alabama Classroom Association. She was an active member of the Alabama Education Association, National Education Association, and Alabama Instructional Media Association. Currently, she served on the following boards: Alabama Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention, The Alabama Public Library Service Executive Board, The Selma-Dallas County YMCA Board and the Historic Brown Chapel AME Preservation Foundation. She was also an active member and officer of The Entre Nous Club (1970-current). 

Nancy was a 1995 charter member of The Selma (AL) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated where she served as the fourth Chapter President (2006-2010) and currently served as an Alumna Member.  During her presidency, the Chapter was one of eight chapters in The Links, Incorporated, awarded the University of California at Davis’ Cardiovascular Grant of $3,500.00 to allow the Selma Links to work with African American women through workshops and seminars to help stem the rising tide of obesity, diabetes, and heart attacks.   The chapter won numerous awards and received national recognition for its outstanding programs. Thus, bringing closure to her two-term presidency (2006-2010) of hard work and dedication to the twin pillars of friendship and service.

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. held a special place in Nancy’s heart.  She was a Golden Soror and Life Member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.  Her commitment began in 1959, when she was inducted into the Beta Pi Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc. while pursuing her undergraduate studies at The Alabama State University.   After college graduation, she became a librarian at the William H. Councill Training School in Normal, Alabama and she transferred her membership to Epsilon Gamma Omega Chapter, where she served diligently until she moved to Selma, Alabama in 1966.  

In Selma, Nancy was an active member of Zeta Eta Omega Chapter ofAlpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. where her zeal to exhibit extraordinary leadership in promoting the chapter’s service goals of uplifting the community and developing the talents of the youth were fortified. During her fifty-five (55) years of continuous membership in the Zeta Eta Omega Chapter, she served in numerous roles, including chapter Basileus for three terms, and two terms as chapter Anti-Basileus and Historian, as well as chair of multiple chapter committees. Over the years, Nancy initiated new chapter programs such as the Cultrama mentoring program and the Debutante Cotillion as well as the Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) program which remains vibrant today.   

Nancy was elected the 18th South Eastern Regional Director at the 54th South Eastern Regional Conference in Jackson, Mississippi, under the theme “My Time Has Come,” and her election was ratified at the 1986 Boule in Detroit, Michigan.  She served under the administration of Janet Jones Ballard, 22ndInternational President of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., under the national theme of “Service with A Global Perspective.” 

As Regional Director, Nancy served her members and chapters by passionately implementing the six international program strands and adopted several new regional programs, such as Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), two Blue-Ribbon regional commissions, and one task force. 

Immediately after taking office, Nancy established two regional Blue-Ribbon Commissions: The Black Family Blue Ribbon Commission that published a handbook entitledThe Vanishing Black Family: A Twenty-Year Blueprint for Survival; and The Undergraduate Blue-Ribbon Commission, that addressed undergraduate membership, scholarship, leadership, and service through workshops and forums. Under Nancy’s leadership, the first South Eastern Region Educational Advancement Foundation (EAF) Scholarship for undergraduates was established in 1990 in the amount of $20,000.  The scholarship was capitalized and named to the EAF as the Nancy Gardner Sewell Undergraduate Scholarship. To date, the fund has awarded more than $15,000 to South Eastern Region undergraduates. 

A highlight of Nancy’s tenure as the 18th South Eastern Regional Director was hosting the induction of Honorary Member Rosa Parks and Virginia Foster Durr on December 5, 1988, at the Historic Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama. This history-making induction ceremony of two iconic civil rights activists was conducted by the 16th International President of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Julia B. Purnell, on behalf of the then 22ndInternational President Janet Jones Ballard. 

Moreover, Nancy worked diligently to expand the presence and influence of Alpha Kappa Alpha during her administration. This was evidenced by the chapters she chartered and the clusters she attended and realigned. She chartered nine chapters, including three graduate and six undergraduate chapters. Her tenure as the 18th South Eastern Regional Director of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. ended as it began—ushering in new traditions and celebrating her beloved sisterhood.  At the end of the 58th South Eastern Regional Conference in Knoxville, Tennessee, Nancy presented each Sorority sister with a special gift – a book she compiled and authored entitled: A Soror’s Treasury of Best-Loved Poems and Quotations. 

The wind beneath Nancy’s wings was her husband of 53 years, Coach Andrew Anthony Sewell of Selma. Andrew and Nancy met in 1961 at their first job out of college at W.H. Councill Training High School, an all-black segregated public school on the campus of Alabama A&M University in Huntsville, AL. The basketball coach and librarian were married on June 15, 1963.

They were the proud parents of three children: Alabama’s first Black U.S. Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell, Birmingham, AL; and twin sons— Andrew Dwight Sewell, Birmingham, AL and Coach Anthony Dewayne Sewell, DeFuniak Springs, FL; and three grandchildren: Neshambia Nicole Sewell, Selma, AL; Taylor Gray Sewell, Birmingham, AL and Carter Andrew Sewell, Madison, AL. 

Nancy was preceded in death by her husband Andrew in 2017, her parents Elder Tom and Effie Nell Gardner and her brother Willie Gardner.  She is survived by six siblings: Dorothy (Eddie) Jenkins-Sanders, Hope Hull, AL; John (Barbara) Gardner, Cleveland, OH; Theresa (Charlie) Douglass, Montgomery, AL; Tom (Estelle) Gardner III, Burkville, AL; Gloria (Frank) Humphrey, Montgomery, AL and Negatha Holt, Burkville, AL; sisters-in-law: Mary Brown, Chicago, IL; Frances Canty and Ann (Dallas) Woodard, Detroit, MI; brother-in-law:  Emerson Acoff, Detroit, MI; and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, friends and loving mothers to her grandchildren: Wanda Peoples, Taqua Gray and Michelle Patterson

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