Statement by Rockland County Legislators Harriet Cornell and Toney Earl on the Passing of Dr. Stella Marrs

 

Stella Marrs

Legislator Harriet Cornell:

“Dr. Stella Marrs was a dear friend who worked to make the world a better and more just place for all people,” Legislator Cornell said. “We had met at various events, and one day she took me to a house not far from the MLK Center. She showed me a ground floor window with shattered glass; bullets had been fired on a recent night from outside and traveled through a bedroom in that small house. Fortunately, the children in the bedroom had been asleep so the bullets went over their heads, and they were unhurt – terrified but unhurt physically. Stella wanted me to see with my own eyes the living conditions and the dangers which faced families and children, and of course, we became partners in working to make improvements.

“I didn’t know until somewhat later of Stella’s earlier career as a jazz and blues singer – and what a beautiful voice she had. I often listen to the one CD I own which was made in her hey-day as a club singer. In Rockland she would sometimes sing with Dick Voigt’s Big Apple Jazz Band.

“Stella always sent friends inspirational poems and writings – and I was fortunate to have received many. When Dick Voigt died, and she was not able to come north for the funeral, Stella sent me several heartfelt and wonderful things she wrote, so that I could give them to Elisabeth, Dick’s wife.

Stella Marrs was – still is – a remarkable woman, wise and wonderful, loving and caring. She enriched my life, and I will always be proud that she was my friend.”

Legislator Toney L. Earl:

“I feel as though I have lost a family member and I’m so saddened to learn that Miss Marrs has passed,” Legislator Earl said. “So many times she invited me to speak to the children in her care at the MLK Center. She would tell me I had to speak to them because it was my duty to serve as a role model and encourage the kids to reach for the stars. That’s what she did, find ways to boost children so they would have good futures.”

Legislator Earl and Dr. Marrs are among five notable African Americans currently featured on banners displayed in honor of Black History Month in the village of Spring Valley. Among her many honors over the years, Dr. Marrs was inducted into the Rockland County Civil Rights Hall of Fame in 2003. She was so beloved, the street outside the Martin Luther King Multipurpose Center was named after her.

Born and raised in East Harlem, Dr. Marrs marched and demonstrated for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s in the South. She called Rockland home for decades.

Dr. Marrs continued to fight to right the wrongs of society during her time as project director for the anti-poverty Rockland Community Action Council during the early 1980s. In 1986, she further improved the lives of children as director of the Martin Luther King Multipurpose Center, a place she often described as an “empowerment zone for families.” She spent 20 years at the center.

Dr. Marrs continued to fight discrimination in housing after becoming a liaison specialist for the Rockland County Human Rights Commission. She retired in 2006 and relocated to South Carolina. She is the mother of five children and had many grandchildren.