Ms. Esther Mae McNeill Huntley
May 7, 1921 - January 11, 2021
The memorable life of Esther Mae McNeill Huntley came to a peaceful end on January 11, 2021. Esther was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina on May 7, 1921 to the late Rufus and Margaret McNeill of Elizabethtown, North Carolina.
Ms. Huntley graduated from the illustrious North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in 1944, with a degree in Home Economics. During her time there she became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.
Upon graduation, she went to New York where she worked in retail and eventually landed a job with Head Start. She became a true crusader for Head Start, helping them start-up many facilities and implementing the Head Start program throughout New York.
In 1947 while in New York, she married Floyd Huntley with whom she had twin daughters, Micheline and Frances. In the mid-50s she went back to Elizabethtown, North Carolina. There she met Robert Lee Cromartie, with whom she gave birth to Karen.
In 1957, Ms. Huntley opened the historical landmark Rainbow Nursery School, the first licensed daycare facility in Bladen and surrounding counties. She became an influential black businesswoman. In order to sustain her business, she traveled between New York and North Carolina working to support her family and business. In 1972, she permanently settled down in Elizabethtown and continued operating her daycare. She served as the role model for the Bladen County Daycare system, helping others to open their own facilities. She also worked for the North Carolina State Government during this time.
In 1979 she became the first black female elected to serve on Elizabethtown’s City Council. As a member she served two consecutive terms.
Ms. Huntley was active in her community throughout her life. She was a member of Mount Zion A.M.E. Zion Church in Elizabethtown, the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials , the League of Municipalities, National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Ms. Huntley was a Bladen county pioneer when it came to childcare, politics and travel. She believed in exposing everyone to all the world had to offer outside of Bladen county, and loved educating and caring for all children! She has played a crucial role in the education and success of thousands of children. It was her belief that an education and reading was the key to success and every child deserved that chance!