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'In the fight ever since': A look at the Foushee family's longstanding civic leadership

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Photos by DTH/Samantha Lewis, DTH/Helen McGinnis, and photo courtesy of Paris Miller-Foushee.

The Foushee family has lived in Orange County for generations, during which members have stood at the forefront of the civil rights movement and served as leaders in the community.

While Rep. Valerie Foushee (D-N.C. 4th), Carrboro Town Council member Barbara Foushee and Chapel Hill Town Council member Paris Miller-Foushee might be the most recognizable Foushees, they aren't the only ones who have had a significant impact.

The three women share the name Foushee, but they are not related by blood. Each of them married into the Foushee family.

Braxton Foushee, Barbara Foushee's husband and a prominent community member in Carrboro, said the Foushee family has been in the Chapel Hill area for over 100 years.

Barbara said the opportunity to campaign for Carrboro Town Council fell into her lap unexpectedly when people from the community encouraged her to run. 

At the time, she said she was already a long-standing member of service-oriented organizations such as Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP.

“I don't consider myself a politician," she said. "I consider myself as a community engager, activist who happens to sit in an elected seat."

Braxton, who is in his 80s and a lifelong resident of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area, currently serves as the chairperson of the planning board in the Town of Carrboro.

He said he was involved in the civil rights movement in the Northside neighborhood, beginning just two weeks after the Greensboro Four sit-in. He said he and other activists in the area were trained by members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

"I've been in the fight ever since," he said.

Braxton said he became the first Black alderman for the Town of Carrboro in 1969, a position he held for 17 years. He said his two main accomplishments during this time were playing a role in preventing Carr Mill Mall from being torn down and getting the roads in Black neighborhoods paved.

He said Vivian Foushee, his cousin’s wife and Paris' mother-in-law, inspired him and other local activists during the civil rights movement with her own involvement in the movement. 

Vivian, who was born in 1933, is also a lifelong Orange County resident and graduate of the UNC School of Social Work. 

She still works as a social worker in a private practice in Chapel Hill, which she established with two colleagues. 

Valerie is married to another member of the family — Stanley Foushee, a retired Carrboro fire marshal. 

Valerie  was recently elected to the U.S. House of Representatives after serving in both houses of the N.C. General Assembly and on the Orange County Board of County Commissioners.

She has also served on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education.

Paris is married to Gerald Foushee, the son of Vivian.

She said she strives to redefine what leadership looks like and prepare local leaders from minority backgrounds to serve on civic and nonprofit boards.

“All too often we have a very top-down approach to addressing the challenges that we face and we also need to, you know, be socialized in a different way of what it means to be a leader of peace,"  Paris said.

She also said the work she does for affordable housing on the board of EMPOWERment, Inc. is a continuation of her mother-in-law Vivian's legacy. Paris said Vivian was the first president of the organization.  

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Herman Foushee, another Chapel Hill native and a member of the Foushee family, said he became involved in the civil rights movement the summer after he completed seventh grade. 

His great-grandmother and Braxton’s great-grandfather were siblings.

He said he attended sit-ins at Colonial Drugstore and was once arrested for visiting The Pines Restaurant — both of which were segregated establishments at the time.

Herman said he worked in several planning and consulting roles in government offices, including as an administrator of facilities management for the Washington, D.C., Department of Public Works. He is currently the president of Foushee’s Tax and Financial Management Services, Inc. and the first vice president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP.

Barbara, Valerie and Braxton all said they never aspired to run for office, but were motivated by community support and a recognized need for their representation. 

Braxton said community leaders must get to know the community they serve in order for people to trust them.

“You have to know the people you're speaking for,” he said. “And they will let you know if you're not speaking the right way. They always do.”

@averysnotabaker | @DTHCityState 

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