Rosanell Eaton

Rosanell Eaton, a fierce voting rights advocate and one of the first African Americans to vote in her home state of North Carolina, has died. She was 97.

Eaton was a voting rights activist celebrate by former President Barack Obama who successfully helped challenge voting restrictions supported by North Carolina Republicans.

When she was 21 years old in 1942, Eaton registered to vote as a young woman in rural Franklin County despite Jim Crow restrictions becoming one of the first African Americans to vote in her county after completing a literacy test. She registered more than 4,000 citizens to vote in North Carolina.

According to her daughter, Armenta Eaton, when white men told Rosanell Eaton she had to recite the preamble to the U.S. Constitution before she could register to vote, she did it from memory.

Eaton’s lifetime of civil rights advocacy caught the notice of President Obama, who invited her to the White House in 2016.

“Yet more than 70 years ago, as she defiantly delivered the Preamble to our Constitution, Rosanell also reaffirmed its fundamental truth,” Obama wrote in a letter to The New York Times in 2015. “I am where I am today only because men and women like Rosanell Eaton refused to accept anything less than a full measure of equality. Their efforts made our country a better place. It is now up to us to continue those efforts.”