Community leader, activist, and longtime Riverside resident Dr. Barnett John Wesley Grier is being remembered by the community he called home. Dr. Grier and his wife Eleanor Jean Grier had been active leaders in the city and had been honored with the naming of the Concerned Citizens of UCR as well as the Grier Pavilion at Riverside City Hall. Dr. Grier passed away last month at the age of 99. He would have celebrated his 100th birthday in March.
Born March 17, 1915 to Joseph Grier, a slave in his early years and of Native American and African descent and Rebecca Green, of German and African descent, Dr. Grier was the youngest of eleven children, and was nicknamed “Snappy” when he was a child because he was speedy when completing tasks and errands growing up on a Charlotte, North Carolina farm.
In 1935, he received his Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics and Physics from Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte. This was followed one year later by a Master’s Degree in Mathematics and Theoretical Physics from the University of Michigan. He became an instructor at Fayetteville College and a Professor of Physics at Shaw University, where he met his future wife, Eleanor Jean. Throughout the years that followed, he spent countless hours tutoring students in their homes, frequently assisting his wife, an early childhood educator.
Dr. Grier later became a physicist at the National Bureau of Standards in New Jersey and Washington D.C. and in 1951, relocated to Riverside where he worked for many years at the Naval Ordinance Laboratories in Corona as an electronics engineer for the Missile Division and Fleet Analysis Center, as well as the Naval Weapons Center in Corona. Later as a department head, he had key responsibility for the development of the Navy’s sidewinder missile project and supervised a staff of many employees.
During his long career, Dr. Grier worked as a chemistry, physics or real estate instructor at Fayetteville State, Shaw University, University of California, Riverside, La Verne College and Riverside City College. Additionally, he worked as a real estate broker, insurance agent, and television repairman. After his retirement from the Federal Government, he returned to school and obtained his Ph.D. in Christian Ethics from the Claremont School of Theology, completing his dissertation on the life of Howard Thurman.
Dr. Grier was one of the presidents and a life member of the Riverside Branch of the NAACP; Chairman of the Committee to elect Johnny Sotelo to the Riverside City Council; Precinct Coordinator of the Committee to elect Jack Clarke to the Riverside City Council; member of the Riverside Board of Realtors, recipient of the Greater Riverside Urban League Lifetime Achievement award; a member of the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers; Vice Chairman of the Riverside Housing Improvement Committee; on the Board of Directors of the Home of Neighborly Service; recipient of the Outstanding Black Citizens award; recipient of the Navy EEO Achievement Award; and recipient of the Urban League Pacesetter award.
Dr. Grier’s additional accomplishments include serving on the Riverside County Grand Jury, was the Vice President and Founding Father of the Board of Directors of the Riverside Habitat for Humanity; a member of the Board of Directors of the Riverside Coalition; a founding Board Member of the Riverside African American Historical Society; a member of the Dr. Barnett and Eleanor jean Grier Concerned Citizens of the University of California, Riverside; Chairman and member of the Riverside Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors; member of the Youth Service Center Board; member of the Riverside Coalition on World Hunger; founding member and former Chairman of the Martin Luther King Walkathon Committee, and an active church member for many years at Allen Chapel AME Church and Vine-Life Christian Fellowship Church.
By the year 2000, Dr. Grier donated $100,000 to Johnson C. Smith University on behalf of the Class of 1935 and in acknowledgement of his roots, that includes a city street in Charlotte, North Carolina called Griers Grove Road. The donation was also given in memory of his father, mother and brother, Paul to establish the JPR Grier Scholarship. Dr. Grier was the class agent and last surviving member of the 1935 alumni. The endowment was established to enable scholarships for students who demonstrated and continue to demonstrate financial need, community concern and academic distinction.
In 1995, his autobiography was published by the Riverside Museum Press, entitled “Trek to Equality,” a historical account of the years he and his wife worked tirelessly to overcome racial injustice in California. Later, as a result of their shared efforts, dedicating their lives to the service of others, Barnett and Eleanor Jean were recognized, along with other honorees, and the Grier Pavilion at Riverside City Hall was dedicated in their honor. The Pavilion serves as a tribute and place to learn about the city’s diversity and civil rights history.
Dr. Grier joined his wife, Eleanor Jean, on November 12, 2014, and is survived by his sister-in-law, Sylvia Walkey Grier; his children, Eleanor Grier McShan, Barnett Grier, Jr., Jackie Grier Wright; grandchildren, Calvin Ethan McShan, Heather Jean McShan Metoyer, Paul Grier, Barnett Grier III, Amber Grier Gibbs, Coral Wright; great-grandchildren, Quinn Metoyer, Mya Gibbs, Alana Gibbs, Milton Gibbs III; sons-in-law, Calvin Nolan McShan, Clifford Wright, Elon Metoyer, Milton Gibbs II; daughters-in-law, Sanceria Farrow Grier, Jetta Winkfield Grier, Antoinette Bowie, Aileen Goddard; and a host of additional family and friends.