Remembering Barbara Sonnenburg, former Memphis councilwoman - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Remembering Barbara Sonnenburg, former Memphis councilwoman

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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

Former Memphis City Councilwoman Barbara Sonnenburg died over the weekend from an extended illness. She was 86 years old.

She was a woman of quiet strength. Yet, when Mrs. Sonnenburg weighed in on any issue, her colleagues knew she spoke from her mind and her heart.

"The untold side is that she was much more effective behind the scenes, conciliating, bringing folks together along racial lines, which was needed so badly back at that time," Mayor A C Wharton said.

The news of Mrs. Sonnenburg's death at the age of 86 brings back memories of other turbulent times in city government. Her 15-year tenure, beginning in 1979 and lasting until 1995, spanned the increased emergence of "white flight" from the city to the county to avoid court-ordered busing.

It also ushered in the era of black political power downtown with the election of the city's first African American mayor in Willie Herenton and the influx of African Americans to the previously white-dominated council. Mrs. Sonnenburg urged concerned white parents not to give up on improving the quality of public schools in Memphis.

"Her votes were not racially motivated," said Councilman Myron Lowery. "She was a moderate in everything that she did for our children because of her background on the Memphis school board. She served during a period of transition in our city, one term with the mayor right after he was elected. Because of her background and her focus, along with others on the council, the council began to make a transition toward where it is today."

In 1984, after being chosen city council chairman, Mrs. Sonnenburg asserted a new sense of cooperation had been established. A bridge between ideologies and race Mrs. Sonnenburg felt Memphis needed even if many times total agreement was hard to come by.

"She was one of the best listeners I've ever come up on," Mayor Wharton said. "She had big, big ears and a lot of patience. At the end, she may not agree with you but I can never say she didn't hear you out."

A memorial service for Mrs. Sonnenburg is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 2 in Decatur, Tenn. Memorials can be sent to the First Unitarian Church of Memphis.

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