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Barbara V. Powell dies; former Hempstead NAACP president was 83

Barbara V. Powell, Hempstead NAACP president for more

Barbara V. Powell, Hempstead NAACP president for more than 25 years, died at her home in the village on Dec. 31, 2014 after a brief illness. She was 83.

Barbara V. Powell, Hempstead NAACP president for more than 25 years, died at her home in the village Wednesday after a brief illness. She was 83.

"She was known for her infectious smile, open heart, brutal honesty and unwavering compassion for those less fortunate than herself," said her oldest daughter, Cheryl Powell of Hermosa Beach, California.

Powell was born and raised in Harlem, but she moved with her parents to upstate Rome during high school. When her father died, the family moved to Queens.

She graduated from Flushing High School and attended Nassau Community College, but it was unclear when she graduated, her family said.

She met up-and-coming jazz saxophonist Seldon Powell in 1954 at Manhattan's famous Savoy Ballroom, and they married a few months later.

Her early years in Hempstead were spent raising her children and lettering signs and artwork, said her daughter Barbara Powell II of Hempstead. "She would later help found the Long Island Black Artists Association."

Civic-minded, she joined the Hempstead NAACP in 1970 and soon became its president.

"She helped form the Long Island black history museum . . . voter registration drives, food for the homeless . . . aid to unwed mothers [and] literacy campaigns," said her namesake daughter.

"She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1984 and started a campaign that eventually resulted in the local department store carrying brassieres with prosthetic devices for breast cancer survivors."

She began work in Hempstead schools about 1974, in the library, but she also used her talents to create colorful banners, posters and artwork to support the high school.

She retired as a media specialist in 1996 because of a brain tumor.

"Despite some paralysis and the death of my father in 1997, she continued some community activism, traveling and social life," said her daughter Cheryl.

Powell was president of the Hempstead NAACP from 1970 to 1996. In July 2012, she was honored with St. Paul's Road North being renamed Barbara V. Powell Way.

"She was admired across the Island," said former village justice Lance Clarke, her NAACP vice president in 1984-86.

"She was a resource and an inspiration to me and hundreds who knew her," said 14-year village trustee Perry Pettus.

Powell is also survived by a son, John, of Hempstead, and a granddaughter, Barbara III.

Viewing will be from 5 to 9 p.m. Monday at Fairchild Sons Funeral Home in Garden City. Service will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Lutheran Church of the Epiphany in Hempstead. Burial will follow at Greenfield Cemetery in Uniondale.

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