Lillian Brock Flemming
Resident of the Southernside Community. Councilwoman since 1981.
Being the first never appeared to be much of an obstacle. Not for her. Even as she stepped onto the Greenville City Council as the first African American woman to do so, being the first didn’t slow her down. By that point she had already joined two other students as the first African American women to attend Furman University. She was already a mathematics teacher with a masters in the subject. She had already become teacher of the year at Southside High School. She would never define herself by her ever expanding list of accolades, rather she’s found a greater desire to be known as a constant servant to those around her. Even those she serves might not know about her pedigree of awards. They don’t need to. They can identify her by her smile. They can identify her by her consistency. They can identify her by her heart for everyone around her. If they need to they can of course identify her by her name: Councilwoman Lillian Brock-Flemming.
Born July 27, 1949 Lillian Brock-Flemming has spent her life in service to the people around her. The highlights mentioned above only begin to capture the way she has engaged with her community. As Lillian grew up her empathy for the city around her wasn’t a hard learned skill, it was a way of life that pushed her to become a “professional servant.” Why did she first run for city council in 1981? Her community of West Greenville was being underserved by the city and Lillian saw an opportunity to remedy the issue by becoming a firm voice. The second district of Greenville had been kept too silent for too long and Lillian decided to speak up.
Perhaps the strongest piece of encouragement for Lillian came from her mother Lila Brock who set a tone of loving and caring for people early on in Lillian’s life. After a full career caring for student by way of being a cafeteria operator at East North Elementary School, Lila retired and become set on improving the Southernside community. Growing up around this, Lillian undoubtedly learned an ability to see need and grow a desire to address issues. When Lillian ran for office her mother encouraged her to do so because of growing pain in West Greenville and because her mother believed that she had the ability and the voice to take on these issues.
Near her neighborhood plans were being made to tear down over a thousand houses to develop a road for a hospital. Why were they going to tear down these houses? Because in the 1980’s the neighborhoods of West Greenville were seen as expendable for the expansion of other parts of Greenville which had stronger voices. Lillian’s response? “I told them no.” Lillian stepped onto the council to be the voice she felt the community needed. “We’re people, you don’t tear down houses to build roads, but you find that’s what happening in America, particularly in african-american communities.” Lillian Brock-Flemming’s resume has always been strong enough that if she had strong desire to do so she could have moved to bigger positions with more illustrious cooler titles, but that’s not why she wanted to join the city council. “I go to a lot of neighborhood meetings. I mean I got to a lot. Because I still believe what I felt when I ran 35 years ago. Whatever it is that people need, they need to be heard, they need to have a voice.” She wanted to stand with her community and give them a voice because she is a part of her community and her community is ingrained into her.
Lillian’s upbringing on Echol’s Street in West-Greenville allowed her to watch the city grow before her. Like most people in West-Greenville she grew up in a tight knit community where her family wasn’t just her parents and siblings; her neighbors were family. “We we’re all neighbors and everyone did shared group events like graduation or going to the prom, that was a community event. They came out, walked down the street and everyone took pictures. When a young man went off to war and they came home in their uniforms, it was a sense of pride.” This sense of community was imprinted on her from an early age, it’s why her desire to create a better Greenville has never been about herself rather it has been about her love for her city, specifically the people around her. When she stepped into the role of councilwoman she accepted a responsibility to care for her community at a higher level, even though the circumstances when she ran were far from normal. “I was encouraged to run because I was 8 months pregnant.”
Lillian Brock-Flemming was encouraged to run even while eight months pregnant because everyone around her could see that she had a fire inside of her for her community. Her own doubts were put to rest by the people closest to her. “My mom said to me ‘Let me ask you a question sweetie; so you’re pregnant, so you won’t be able to talk? I said no I’ll be able to talk. She said ‘You won't be able to read documents?’ I said ‘Yes ma’am I’ll be able to read documents.’ She said ‘so you won't be able to go to meetings?’ I said ‘yes ma’am I’ll be able to go.’ She said ‘now tell me again why you’re not running?’” Point taken.
Lillian began her service as an elected member of the Greenville City Council as a new mother. Early on it was clear that Lillian was ambitious, but not in the typical way of looking to climb some political ladder or prove herself. She was ambitious for people around her, ambitious for the city of Greenville to develop into an outstanding environment for community within and as an attractive place for businesses without. The platform she ran on wasn’t some expansive list of complicated tasks. It was simple enough. The community of West-Greenville had a representative but Lillian felt that the people were not being heard and she wanted to change that. Like her mother Lila, Lillian decided to change her community by loving well.
Lila Brock is known throughout West Greenville for how she has brought people in and looked out for them. Not just handing them a sandwich and sending them on their way or stopping by once or twice a year to say hello; Lila would dive into life with people. “My mom, when she retired, began fixing sandwiches in the kitchen in the daytime, so she would go out and feed the people who were just sitting out there because they were hungry.” Lila recognized that the people around her needed help and she could give it to them, so she did. It wasn’t just a stale handout though, it was trade. She let them work for their food. “She said ‘now I will give this sandwich, but all this trash around you, clean it up, put it in this bag and throw it away. I'll feed you everyday if you keep this area clean.’” Lila began to act strongly upon her dream of finding better ways to look after the people around her after she retired. This eventually manifested itself into the Southernside Community Center. This monument to Lila’s character only partially tells the many ways in which Lila changed the world around her. She also had a desire to help create better low-income housing in West-Greenville and played a major role in bringing in the Brockwood Apartments, a housing area for senior citizens and people with disabilities who are less likely to be able to afford full rent.
Lila would give constantly. Most often it was time and care, but it would be food and other things that people needed too. As Lillian was able to watch this, her mother became her inspiration for how she wanted to live her life as a public servant as well. There is a long and expansive list of the things that Lillian has done since becoming a councilwoman, most of which I will likely add in further drafts to this story, but she’s not proud of the list so I don’t want to get to hung up on it. Instead, I’d rather re emphasize her dedication of her life to the people around her. Lillian Brock-Flemming has had as much of an impact in changing the culture and lifestyle of Greenville as anyone else and has no intentions of slowing down anytime soon. Like her mother, Lillian Brock-Flemming has a genuine love for people.