Last night, the Ithaca Common Council honored Frances Eastman for her work as an advocate for Southside Ithaca. She received the J. Diann Sams Annual African American History Month Resolution, a recognition given each year to an Ithaca community member “of great esteem and stellar leadership.” Eastman was praised by Alderperson Michelle Barry for her “unwavering commitment to social justice” and was described by Mayor Carolyn Peterson as an important advocate for the Southside community.
A resident of Ithaca since moving from New York City in 1947, Eastman is a former board member f the Southside Community Center and the first woman of color to be supervisor of medical records at Cayuga Medical Hospital.
A great-grandmother who is turning 90 this year, Mrs. Eastman is still active in social issues. She is a current civil service commissioner for the city of Ithaca and remains a member of groups such as the Southside Can-Do neighborhood association. Upon accepting the award, she thanked Mayor Carolyn Peterson for adding chess and checkers tables at the Southside Park but added that she hopes to see further improvements.
A letter by Maryanne Banks, director of the Tompkins County Department of Social Services, was read aloud, describing Eastman’s “wisdom, strength and grace” and crediting her for “helping make Ithaca a vibrant and wonderful place to live.”
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Since 2004, a resolution has been passed each February to honor a prominent African-American in Ithaca in recognition of Black History Month. The award was re-named at the meeting in honor of the award’s first recipient, J. Diann Sams, the first African-American woman and disabled person on the Ithaca Common Council,and an advocate for social justice until her death in 2005. Her son, Jack Bradley Nelson, spoke at the meeting and described the passion she had for her work. “She spent her many years in politics fighting for human rights, for the disenfranchised, the handicapped. She fought for all, putting her heart and soul into everything she did.”
Previous recipients of the award are Caleneze “Cal” Walker, deacon of the Calvary Baptist Church and the associate director at the Cornell Learning Strategies center, and Dr. James Turner, founder of the Africana Studies and Research Center.