Lydia M. Jiggetts, prayer warrior and activist, dies at 70

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 6/30/2018, 9:43 a.m.
Dr. Lydia Mercedes Jiggetts sought to help people in multiple ways. In the 1970s, she was part of a team …

Dr. Lydia Mercedes Jiggetts sought to help people in multiple ways.

In the 1970s, she was part of a team of activists that helped force Richmond area radio and television stations to end their whites-only employment policies and open their doors to African-American talent.

By the 1980s, she was organizing The Branches of the True Vine Ministries with her sister, Rosa A. Jiggetts, to assist people with food, clothing and money to pay for utilities and burials.

Dr. Jiggetts also worked with her sister to help seniors stay in their homes by recruiting retirees to provide caregiver services.

And when she heard students from John Marshall High School complain about an infestation of rats, she bombarded the city School Board and school officials with phone calls demanding action.

“She had a big heart and wanted people to be treated right,” said Rosa Jiggetts.

Dr. Jiggetts, who remained vigilant despite losing her sight in 2000, succumbed to illness on Thursday, June 14, 2018. She was 70.

Family and friends celebrated Dr. Jiggetts’ life on Friday, June 22, at St. John Baptist Church in North Side, her home church for most of her life and where she was ordained as a minister.

Born in Norfolk, Dr. Jiggetts grew up in Richmond. She graduated with honors from Maggie L. Walker High School in 1966 and later earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Virginia State University, a master’s in divinity from Richmond Virginia Seminary and a doctorate in divinity from Slidell Bible Seminary in Louisiana.

Always an activist, her sister recalled, Dr. Jiggetts joined a team of Richmonders to take action against segregation in broadcasting while future national NAACP leader Benjamin L. Hooks was chairing the Federal Communications Commission.

Former Richmond City Councilman Henry L. Marsh III and former Richmond Urban League Assistant Director Collie Burton organized the team. Dr. Jiggetts joined Michael G. Brown and James Elam in conducting research on more than 20 radio and TV stations in the Richmond area. That work formed the basis of a complaint to the FCC seeking to revoke the stations’ broadcast licenses for their failure to hire African-Americans as on-air personalities, DJs and producers.

The voluminous complaint got the attention of area stations that started recruiting African-Americans for positions, but also gave Mr. Hooks ammunition to push for greater inclusion at stations across the country.

In 1985, Dr. Jiggetts launched The Branches of the True Vine Ministries in a storefront on Brookland Park Boulevard near North Avenue.

Rosa Jiggetts said that her sister would lead midnight prayer walks along 2nd Street in Downtown to minister to prostitutes and homosexuals looking for liaisons who frequented the street at the time.

“She would be out at 2 and 3 in the morning praying with those individuals,” Rosa Jiggetts said. Over time, her efforts, along with those of police, led such individuals to relocate.

For 10 years, she also delivered clothing and food to the needy at 2nd and Marshall streets and held regular revivals in the parking lot of the former A.D. Price Funeral Home.

Rosa Jiggetts said that she and her sister also organized the Help Ministry to assist people “with whatever they needed.” That included finding money to help families bury relatives and pay electricity and utility bills.

“We would go out and raise the money,” Rosa Jiggetts said. “We still do that.” And when elderly people called seeking in-home care, Rosa Jiggetts said she and her sister created a list of retirees who could step in.

“Whatever people needed, we would try to find a way to cover that need,” Rosa Jiggetts said.

She said she and her sister also worked closely to collect and give out new bikes and computers to students at the now closed A.V. Norrell Elementary School in North Side.

For years, Dr. Jiggetts juggled her work of caring for people with a full-time job. She started working for the city’s Human Resources Department, but left to become assistant director at Tiny Angels Day Care in Fulton.

Dr. Jiggetts later worked 10 years for NationsBank, now Bank of America. Rosa Jiggetts said her sister started out on the cleaning crew and then worked in the cafeteria before being hired in the data center. Before she left, she had become a regional manager for the operation.

Dr. Jiggetts persuaded her bosses to allow her to hire city high school students for data processing jobs that previously had been reserved for college students, her sister said. More than 20 students were trained and hired as the result of that effort.

“My sister helped change students’ lives by helping them secure good, paying jobs in the computer field,” she said.

Dr. Jiggetts also became a mentor to a host of other Richmond ministers.

In addition to her sister, survivors include two brothers, James D. Jiggetts of Richmond and Marcus G. Jiggetts of South Carolina.