Christiansburg activist passes

Nannie Hairston was dedicated to preserving local history and educating youth.

ICON: Nannie Hairston upon receiving an award in 2011 from the Strong Men & Women in Virginia History organization. – Courtesy of Clinton Strane

Nannie Mae Berger Hairston of Christiansburg went home to be with the Lord on July 14, 2017. She was 95, born August 7, 1921, the oldest of 10 children of the late Samuel and Bessie Mae (Robinson) Berger of West Virginia (a true coal miner’s daughter).

Nannie Mae graduated from Excelsior (WV) segregated High School and married her life-long husband and friend, John Tyrone Hairston, on June 14, 1941. Their lives together from that point would hold any audience captive until his passing. Their granddaughter, Nannie Mae, also preceded her in death.

John and Nannie moved to Christiansburg, VA in 1953. There she immediately became a dynamic force, challenging the racial injustice that was commonplace (and legal) throughout the New River Valley in particular. After learning that local African American factory workers were not allowed to attend a company picnic, Nannie pushed for the hiring of more African-Americans and equal access to benefits.

These bold acts were but the beginning of a life-long journey of serving her community and ensuring equality for all! Nannie was employed by Hercules, Inc for 20 years! President Jimmy Carter invited her to a White House reception because of her volunteer work within the Democratic Party. She also received awards and recognitions so numerous that a “Nannie B. Hairston Community Service Award” was established and given annually to individuals for distinguished service in the community. Other honorariums include (but not limited to): honored by the Virginia State Conference, NAACP as a “Special Tribute to Virginia Women of Distinction; and by The Rotary Club of Christiansburg for her “Exemplary Acts of Service.” The Montgomery County Government Center also dedicated a bronze bust of Nannie in 2006 in recognition of her life’s work–that remains there to date! The Rotary Club of Christainsburg also recognized her exemplary acts of service in 2001.

Those left to cherish her memory and legacy include: her four daughters; Catherine (James) McDaniel of Potomac, MD; Edwina (Fred) Miles, Washington, DC; Dy-Anne (Benjamin) Penn, Bartlett, TN; and Colette (Gary) Hash, of Pulaski, VA; and a host of other proud relatives and friends.

Her Celebration of Life service was held at Jubilee Christian Center, Lee Highway, Fairlawn, Christiansburg with interment at the Schaeffer Community Cemetery in Christiansburg.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to John T. & Nannie B. Hairston Endowed Scholarship at New River Community College (referenced Hairston Scholarship.