City renames Community Center to honor Essie Bellfield

Published 2:21 pm Saturday, November 17, 2018

By Dawn Burleigh

The Orange Leader


Essie Bellfield is a strong woman who is not afraid to speak her mind.

From marching with Martin Luther King Jr. to becoming the first African American and first female mayor of Orange, she is a person many look up to with respect.

In a ceremony to honor her and rename the Orange Community Center to the Essie L. Bellfield Community Center, Salem United Methodist Church Pastor Develous Bright called the moment a historical moment.

“To witness this historical moment, to see a building named for the first African American Mayor…,” Bright said. “Her name goes into concrete for generations to come to help tell the story of this woman and how she defied the odds. She rose to lead an entire community and to continue to serve in her name.”

Mayor Larry Spears, Jr., the first African American man to serve as mayor, said he could only hope to have a tenth of the respect people have for Bellfield.

Approximately 60 people attended the event.

“Some people do a good job, some set the standard. You set the standard, Mrs. Bellfield,” Spears said.  “Until I saw you in the position as mayor, I had not known it was possible.”

Spears accredited Council member Annette Pernell for doing much of the work to make the name change possible.

“Pernell said we should may respect and honor those while they are living,” Spears said.

“Everybody treat everybody right,” Bellfield said. “Love self, love God and love people.”

Bellfield has marched in every Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. march in Orange.

“I have no problem ‘stepping on toes’ and speaking my mind for the benefit of betterment,” Bellfield said in a previous interview.

She has fought for equal rights, encourages others to exercise their right to vote and strives to improve Orange.

She is infamous for stating, “I don’t care who you vote for, as long as you vote.”

Bellfield also hands out voter registration cards to those have yet to register.

Recently, Salem United Methodist Church renamed of one of the church’s education buildings in Bellfield’s honor.

In July, the City Council unanimously voted to rename Orange’s senior center after Bellfield.

She holds lifetime memberships to the NAACP, Top Ladies of Distinction and the Council of Negro Women