Dr. Bessie Moody-Lawrence

Feb. 14, 1941 - Dec. 19, 2012

Dr. Bessie Moody-LawrenceThe Honorable Dr. Bessie Moody-Lawrence was Winthrop’s first African-American faculty member to be granted tenure. She also was the first African-American professor to serve as a state legislator.

An education professor who retired from Winthrop in 2004, Dr. Moody-Lawrence earned a bachelor’s degree from South Carolina State College in 1962 and taught science in the Spartanburg school district. She earned a certificate of education in 1967 and a master’s in education degree in 1971, both from Winthrop, and later a doctorate from the University of South Carolina.

Dr. Moody-Lawrence taught in Rock Hill schools for several years before joining Winthrop in 1973 where she helped prepare future teachers for elementary education.

Dr. Moody-Lawrence entered the political sphere because of her mother’s poor health coverage as a retired teacher and fought to get it corrected.

First elected to the General Assembly in 1993, Dr. Moody-Lawrence was a pioneer as the second African-American woman to serve in the S.C. General Assembly from York County. She represented the Rock Hill area and fought for education, and for the poor and underprivileged. Her quiet, but tough, advocacy for these groups earned her the nickname “The Velvet Hammer” from her fellow legislators.

During her 15-year political tenure, the Chester County native served on the House of Representatives’ Education Committee, the Higher Education subcommittee, as chair of the Black Caucus’ Education Committee and as director of legislative internships for students from historically black colleges.