Civil rights activist Norris Earl Francis Jr. dead at 71

Norris Earl Francis died Oct. 25 at South Norris Earl Francis died Oct. 25 at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside. He was 71. Photo Credit: handout

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Norris Earl Francis Jr., a longtime Long Island community volunteer, became an activist at the height of the civil rights movement, participating in lunch counter sit-ins to protest whites-only service in the South.

Francis died Oct. 25 at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside. He was 71.

He was an avid traveler, sometimes going abroad three times a year, but he was always keenly aware of what was going on in his neighborhood, family members said.

"All my friends knew him as well as they knew me," said a daughter, Tamika Fagan, 42, of Hutto, Texas. "He was always interested in the community."

In the early 1960s, Francis spent three days in a North Carolina jail for participating in a Woolworth's lunch counter sit-in in Elizabeth City to protest segregated service, according to his wife, Patricia Francis, 66, of Rockville Centre.

He also took aim at companies that didn't hire blacks by blocking deliveries to stores and promoting "selective buying until you hire people of color," his wife said.

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At the time, Francis was a physical education major at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina, where he had earned a football scholarship as a quarterback, according to his wife. After he graduated, he was inducted into the school's Sports Hall of Fame.

Francis moved to Long Island in 1964 and worked as an insurance claims adjuster before becoming the first African-American salesman for DuPont's chemical films division. He later worked as a salesman at Ametek, Astro-Valcour Inc. (AVI), and Pactiv Corp. He also served as vice president of sales at Viking Criterion Corp. and was the national sales manager at Tenneco Inc. before starting his own management consulting business in 2005.

He met his wife in 1973 while waiting in line at a state Department of Motor Vehicles office. They went to dinner that night and married two years later, Patricia Francis said.

He supported and encouraged neighborhood children in his capacity as a deacon at Memorial Presbyterian Church in Roosevelt, and as a local sports director, she said.

"He was a father, not only to our children, but to all of the children in the neighborhood," she said.

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Francis volunteered as a football coach at Malverne Senior High School from 1988 until 2007. In 1997, Francis also helped start a running team for at-risk youth to keep them off the streets. Among the children he worked with was 1996 Olympic gold medal hurdler Derrick Adkins, the family said.

Other survivors include another daughter, Kendria Francis, of Hackensack, N.J.; a son, Norris Francis III, of Brooklyn; and three grandchildren.

A wake will be held Friday from noon to 8 p.m. at Memorial Presbyterian Church in Roosevelt, followed by burial Saturday at Pinelawn Memorial Park.

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