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Ms. Esther Mae McNeill Huntley

Elizabethtown, NC
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! 

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