Juanita Goggins, the first Black woman elected to the South Carolina Legislature, was found dead in her home in early March after she apparently froze to death. She was 75.
Goggins, who had become a recluse in her later years, died in a rented house just four miles from the state house in Columbia, S.C. Her body was discovered on March 3 after neighbors told police that it had been a long while since they’d seen her.
Local authorities said Goggins died of hypothermia sometime around Feb. 20, and found indications of mental illness present in her home. Family members told The New York Times that they believe Goggins developed an undiagnosed case of dementia or Alzheimer’s in her later years.
Her death came as a surprise to neighbors, as her refusal for assistance kept them in the dark about both her well-being, and her accomplishments.
“When I read it in the newspaper and learned everything she had done, I was like, ‘Wow,’ ” Linda Martin, property manager for Goggins’ rented house, told The New York Times. “I really didn’t know anything about her.”
“You reach out to help a person, and they reject you,” Martin said. “What else can you do?”
At her funeral on March 12, many politicians gathered to honor her life.
“Her story is my story,” South Carolina State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter told Columbia newspaper The State. “She started as a voice for those with no voice.”
“I am here today, standing on her shoulders, grateful to her,” Cobb-Hunter said. “We all must be grateful.”
Goggins was elected to the South Carolina General Assembly in 1974. Among some of the key pieces of legislation she introduced were bills on school funding as well as an expansion of kindergarten programs and reduction of class sizes.
Goggins left public office in 1980 to become a social worker. She is survived by one son, Horace Goggins, Jr.