Community, Education Leader Dies
John Sledge wasn't a native Moore County resident, but that didn't stop him from establishing a large presence in his adopted community.
Sledge, who died Wednesday at the age of 79, lived here more than 50 years and, in that time, served as a community leader in education and worked ceaselessly to raise up his adopted community of West Southern Pines.
"He was such a great man," said Southern Pines resident Dorothy Brower, a member of West Southern Pines Citizens for Change. "That generation, as we're losing them, we're losing a lot."
Sledge served 12 years on the Moore County Board of Education during the 1980s. That board appointed him to the Sandhills Community College Board of Trustees in 1987, and he served on that board until 2004.
Sledge was a leading member on SCC's board, serving as its vice chairman from 1995 to 2004. Today, the board room carries his name.
"He was just a great, great board member," said board chairman George Little. "He was always very interested in young people."
Sledge's main interest was in raising the standard of living for African American communities like West Southern Pines, the first chartered black town in North Carolina.
Sledge grew up in a place known as Smokey Hollow in Raleigh's inner city. It was a racially integrated community served by a variety of merchants that allowed the community to thrive. It was a model that would guide his thinking for the rest of his life.
After graduating from Shaw University and marrying his high-school sweetheart Frances, the couple moved to the Sandhills. He took a job at Cameron Morrison School for Delinquent Boys.
His wife was a school teacher at West Southern Pines School and taught social studies for years before retiring in 1991 from Pinecrest High School.
Sledge spent most of his career working for the state. Former Gov. Jim Hunt bestowed on Sledge the prestigious Order of the Longleaf Pine for his service.
Friends say Sledge's passion was working to improve conditions for West Southern Pines and other historically black communities. He worked with Fred Hobbs at Hobbs Upchurch Associates to help such communities win money for improvements.
"He was always trying to make sure they had every opportunity," Hobbs said. "He was trying to improve the plight of those communities."
Hobbs said Sledge would frequently go into the communities and talk to residents, find out their needs, hear their stories and then help professional grant writers complete the forms. He was the easy-going retiree who could relate to people, Hobbs said.
Sledge brought the same activist agenda to Sandhills Community College. While on the board, he had a special focus for improving minorities' opportunities, Little said.
"He tried to really help us with recruitment of minority faculty," Little said. "We had trouble drawing them because of our size. Large urban areas didn't have that problem, but we used to. John helped us tremendously."
Friends say Sledge also was active in his church, Trinity AME Zion Church on West Pennsylvania Avenue. He also was a founder in such groups as the Men's Service Club of West Southern Pines and Citizens Input for Priorities of Minorities.
He also served as chairman of the Sandhills Community Action Program, which worked to improve conditions in a four-county region. One of his proudest moments was obtaining low-income housing for the elderly in Carthage.
"He was," Hobbs said, "well-loved in the community."
Contact John Nagy at (910) 693-2507 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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