From janitor to supervisor of housekeeping and a lifetime of service

Long before East Carolina saw desegregation with its students and faculty, a Black man named John Henry Bizzell was an integral part of campus.

Bizzell was born in Philadelphia on Oct. 27, 1914, to Alonza D. and Lula M. Bizzell, both of whom were from North Carolina. By the time John Henry turned 16 in 1930, they were on their way back to their home state.

They moved into a rental on North Reade Street, near the Tar River and Sycamore Hill Baptist Church, and four years later in 1934, Bizzell began work at East Carolina Teachers College as a janitor. He married Lossie Bell Williams, a Winterville native, the following year.

John Henry Bizzell, who began at East Carolina as a janitor, received the state employees’ association Employee of the Year Award in 1977. He retired as supervisor of housekeeping in 1979. (File photo)

U.S. Census records in 1940 indicate Bizzell earned an annual salary of $240, and his wife worked in tobacco as a “hand stemmer,” making $120 a year.

Tasked with keeping East Carolina clean and presentable, he exemplified ECTC’s service motto in many ways.

On June 16, 1943, Bizzell enlisted in the U.S. Army at Fort Bragg as a private. Following World War II, he returned to Greenville and resumed work as a janitor at ECTC.

By 1958, a decade before an urban renewal project razed the African-American community flanking the Sycamore Hill Baptist Church, Bizzell had moved to 1207 W. Fourth St., across the street from Dr. Andrew A. Best, Greenville’s first Black physician.

Their professions differed, but the two men had in common a devotion to public service.

Notably, in 1965 Bizzell became the first Black appointee to the Greenville City Board of Education. He served for a decade, and in 1973, Bizzell received the North Carolina School Board Association Distinguished Service Award honoring his years of service.

As part of a project to document ECU’s past, former university historian Mary Jo Bratton’s work included a full-page picture of Bizzell receiving the state employees’ association Employee of the Year Award in 1977. He retired as supervisor of housekeeping in 1979, after 45 years of service to East Carolina.

His record of service didn’t end there. Bizzell was also a member of the Mt Hermon Masonic Lodge No. 35 and served as its treasurer for 15 years. He served as president of Greenville’s Bachelor-Benedict Club for 20 years, and he sat on the boards of several organizations including the Pitt County United Fund, Operation Sunshine for Girls, the Eastern Lung Association, Pitt County Cancer Society, Pitt County Mental Health Association and the Pitt County Humane Society.

Politically active, he was second vice-president of the Pitt County Democratic Executive Committee. Bizzell was also affiliated with the Pitt-Greenville Chamber of Commerce, Pitt County Council on Aging, Pitt County Red Cross and the Pitt County Domiciliary Home Community Advisory Committee.

Bizzell was involved in Greenville city government, being appointed in 1986 by Mayor Les Garner to serve on the mayoral ad hoc budget advisory committee. In February 1989, Bizzell was appointed chairman of the city of Greenville Parking Authority, and in July 1991, he was named secretary-treasurer of the Pitt-Greenville Airport Authority, a position he held until the year he died in 1999. He also served two terms on the Greenville Recreation Commission.

He also was a volunteer firefigher in Greenville for more than 44 years. He was a member of the North Carolina Volunteer Fireman Association and the North Carolina State Fireman Association, where he served as recording secretary for more than 40 years. In July 1977, then North Carolina governor Jim Hunt appointed him to a six-year term on the Pitt County Social Service Board.

Bizzell’s exceptional devotion to community service led to numerous honors and certificates, including the First Native Son Award from Ebenezer Baptist Church in La Grange, North Carolina, for his outstanding achievements and contributions to Greenville, Pitt County and the state.

A longtime devoted member of Sycamore Hill Baptist Church, Bizzell’s funeral was held there in 1999.

Sources: ECU Heritage Hall’s John Henry Bizzell profile, ECU Joyner Library Desegregation website