Edith Wiggins was born in Greensboro, where her father, LeMon Mayfield, was a minister in the United Methodist Church, and her mother, Carrie Mebane Mayfield, taught school. After completing her undergraduate degree at UNC-Greensboro, where she was a member of the third class of Black students to be admitted, she came to Chapel Hill in 1962 to get a graduate degree in social work.
She found Chapel Hill to be a small community where she felt comfortable and quickly became involved in university and community activities. She ran for and was elected to a position on the School Board in 1979 and served on the board until 1987. Some of the issues she dealt with on the School Board included the effects of redistricting and making more efficient use of school buildings by balancing enrollment at each site. She recalls that “some of the most tense and contentious meetings” concerned redistricting of Chapel Hill and Carrboro schools. At first, the redistricting proposals drew little public attention. But after the first draft was published, Edith remembers that “the meetings were packed.” Another important issue was maintaining socio-economic balance, ensuring that all students, regardless of achievement levels, received a proper education.
Becoming active in UNC-Chapel Hill activities as well, Edith served as Director of the Campus Y, and became the first African-American Vice Chancellor and Dean of Student Affairs in 1994. In 1996, she ran for Chapel Hill Town Council and served until 2005. During her terms on Town Council, development was a major issue, as plans for Meadowmont and Southern Village were approved. Edith worked to ensure that development plans included public schools and affordable housing. Another issue was garbage collection, a “hot button” issue with many residents. She supported an initiative to require residents to properly bag trash and place waste containers on the curb, which improved working conditions for sanitation workers.
Edith Wiggins credits her background in social work with honing her listening skills and enabling her to see herself in the same situation as others. A long-time member of the board at Carol Woods retirement community, she has been a resident there for thirteen years, together with her husband, Sheldon. She has two sons—Balaam, a financial advisor in Atlanta, and David, who practices law with the Attorney General’s office in Raleigh.
She feels that her most gratifying accomplishment has been laying the groundwork for the future, especially in education. As a School Board member, she worked to reduce the dropout rate through special programs and the reduction in the achievement gap. One of the most significant changes she has seen in the community has been the increase in racial diversity as the community has dealt with discrimination and become more welcoming to minorities. She has found Chapel Hill to be a great place to raise children, with its many services and amenities. A long-time member of the Binkley Baptist Church, she hopes that in the future the churches can end their separation by race and come together to worship.
Public service has been an important part of Edith Wiggins’ life. She credits her parents with setting an example of service to others, [f]or them, it wasn’t something special—it was just what they did.”