John Marshall Kilimanjaro Sr., a professor, civil rights activist and newspaper founder, died on Wednesday, March 27, 2019, at the Hospice of the Piedmont in High Point, North Carolina. He was 88.
He was born on June 6, 1930, in Little Rock, Arkansas, to the late Isabell Lawson Broy Stevenson, a registered nurse, and the late Arthur L. Stevenson, a Pullman porter. He was the youngest of three children. His mother died when he was 5 years old. He was placed at Sager Brown Orphanage in Baldwin, Louisiana. He was raised by his aunts, Ruth Stevenson Lundy, Beatrice Broy Josey and Sarilda Phillips.
Kilimanjaro graduated from Rust College Preparatory School in Holly Springs, Mississippi. He began his college education at Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Mississippi. While there, he was a charter member of the Rho Epsilon Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.
In 1952, Kilimanjaro earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Arkansas A.M.&N. College, now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. He was one of approximately seven African-American graduate students to attend classes at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where he earned a master of arts and a doctoral degree in speech, theater arts and English literature. He gained popularity as a competition-winning pianist at the University of Arkansas, serving as the piano man for the Chi Omega and Delta Delta Delta sororities.
Kilimanjaro served in the U.S. Marine Corps in Europe and the U.S. Navy as a naval hospital corpsman during the Korean War. He completed his military service and was honorably discharged.
In 1955, Kilimanjaro became a junior instructor in the Department of English of North Carolina Agricultural & Technical College in Greensboro. Soon after arriving, he joined Temple Emanuel. He married Vickie Kilimanjaro on Aug. 25, 1956, at the temple. Kilimanjaro served as a religious school instructor for high school students. He also served as vice president of Temple Brotherhood and volunteered with a host of Brotherhood activities.
Throughout his life, Kilimanjaro was always cognizant of the social injustices and the tough economic plight faced by African Americans. In 1958, he was tapped by the late Edwin Edmonds, who was chairman of the Division of Social Sciences at Bennett College and was with the Wesley Foundation at A&T, to become the secretary of the Greensboro NAACP.
In 1958, Edmonds, a former classmate of Martin Luther King Jr. at Boston University, persuaded King to give a speech in Greensboro. Kilimanjaro and several other Greensboro notables helped arrange the gathering at Pfeiffer Chapel on the campus of Bennett College.
During that meeting, Kilimanjaro, encouraged by King, promised to take an active part in the struggle for civil and equal rights and make an enduring contribution that would benefit his community and enhance the lives of the people of Greensboro. The manifestation of this pledge was the Carolina Peacemaker, a weekly newspaper that he and his wife founded in 1967, and the longest running weekly newspaper in Greensboro/Guilford County.
Another defining moment in Kilimanjaro’s social activism and civil disobedience came on June 6, 1962, when he was arrested on his birthday with Donald P. Addison, a colleague and A&T assistant professor of sociology, and hundreds of A&T students as they sat down in the middle of the intersection at Market and Elm streets in downtown Greensboro. He felt an obligation to protest alongside the students against the racial injustices occurring in the city.
On Aug. 28, 1963, he and his wife Vickie participated in the historic March on Washington and sat cooling their feet in the reflecting pool before the Lincoln Memorial as they listened to King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
In 1965, Kilimanjaro was elected president of the National Association of Dramatic and Speech Arts, which comprises speech and theater arts departments on Black college and university campuses.
In 1969, he established the Speech and Theatre Arts Department at North Carolina A&T State University. By 1970, he founded the Paul Robeson Theatre, built on the A&T campus and served as the executive director of the theater and the Richard B. Harrison Players from 1970 to 1981.
As the senior director of theater arts at A&T, Kilimanjaro produced more than 80 major plays and musicals over his 22-year tenure at the university. In 2015, in recognition of Kilimanjaro’s many contributions to the A&T theater program, the lobby of the Paul Robeson Theatre was renamed in his honor.
Kilimanjaro was also instrumental in establishing the A&T chapter of the American Association of University Professors in 1971. He was a member of Alpha Psi Omega National Honor Society of Dramatic Arts, Sigma Delta Chi National Journalism Honor Society and the graduate chapters of Phi Delta Kappa national education fraternity and Beta Gamma Sigma business honor society.
Kilimanjaro also wrote a weekly column, “The Other Side of the Tracks,” and penned “’Ole Nosey.” In 1972, he received the O. Henry Award for Artistic Creativity from the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce.
Under Kilimanjaro’s leadership, the Peacemaker has garnered numerous journalism awards from the North Carolina Press Association and the National Newspaper Publishers Association. In 2006, he was selected to be the Samuel E. Cornish Publisher of the Year by the National Newspaper Publishers Association.
Kilimanjaro was a 2002 recipient of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine by Gov. Mike Easley for his “significant contributions to the state and community through exemplary service and exceptional accomplishments.” He was a member of the Tau Omega Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., which honored him as Man of the Year, and he received the fraternity’s Founder’s Day Award in 2005.
He was predeceased by his parents; a brother, Arthur L. Stevenson of Little Rock, Arkansas; and a daughter, Kaaren M. Hairston (Bob) of Jackson, Mississippi.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by: his sister, Beatrice M. Outten; son, John Jr. of Friendway Home in Greensboro; daughters, Sybil G. Kilimanjaro (Jerry) of Greensboro; Heidi A. Kilimanjaro-Davis (Larry) of Nashville, Tennessee, and Afrique I. Kilimanjaro of Greensboro; grandchildren, Tselane Price, Hillary Price, Autumn Joy Hairston and Meredith Hairston of Jackson, Mississippi; Jeremiah M. Kilimanjaro of Orlando, Florida; Sarilda J. Kilimanjaro and Mildred J. Kilimanjaro of Greensboro; and Ian K. Davis of Nashville, Tennessee; and other relatives and friends.
Services were held March 29 at Temple Emanuel, 1129 Jefferson Road, Greensboro, N.C.
Hanes Lineberry Funeral Services handled the arrangements. — (Carolina Peacemaker)