civil rights

Wilson’s own.

This historical marker stands in the same block as the Wilson County Courthouse. It honors Josephus Daniels, who was everything listed on this innocuous plaque. And quite a bit more. After cutting his teeth at the casually racist Wilson Advance, in 1894 Daniels acquired a controlling interest in the Raleigh News & Observer and turned the paper into a blaring trumpet for white supremacy. From his bully pulpit, Daniels lobbied for the passage in 1900 of laws disenfranchising most African-Americans, a move that effectively excised them from political power until deep into the Civil Rights era. And in 2006, the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission‘s final report noted that Daniels’ involvement in the overthrow of the elected city government of Wilmington, North Carolina, by whipping white supremacists to a froth via The News and Observer‘s editorials and cartoons, was so significant that some consider him the “precipitator of the riot.” Nonetheless, Daniels is deemed worthy of prominent honor, and his marker elides his role in the oppression of a third of North Carolina’s population — and nearly half that of his home county.

On 11 January 2018, the Cox-Corbett Historical Society, Wilson County Historical Association, and other groups will sponsor a community viewing of “Wilmington on Fire,” a documentary film about the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898, an event cited as the only instance in United States history of the organized seizure and overthrow of a democratically elected municipal government.  The showing is scheduled for 6:30 P.M. at the Edna Boykin Cultural Center in downtown Wilson. For a fuller understanding of Josephus Daniels’ shady legacy, please consider attending.

This is the cause of the exodus.

THOMAS BYNUM.

I lived in Wilson County, North Carolina. I have a wife and eight children. It cost me one hundred and twenty-three dollars to get here. I never heard any thing about politics until I got to Indianapolis; then I was asked by a Democrat if some Republican did not go South and make fine promises to me, and did they not bring me here to vote? I told him, no, that I brought myself; I came on my own money; and that I came because I could not get any pay for my work, nor could I educate my children there; and now that I have seen the difference between the North and South I would not go back to North Carolina for anything, and I never expect to go back in life nor after death, except the buzzards carry me back. Mr. Turnbull, of Toisenot, N.C., a white Democrat, told me that I was coming out here to perish, but so far from perishing I am faring better than I ever fared before in my life. I wish to say that cases like the following is what brought about the exodus: A colored man rented a farm, for which he was to pay three bales of cotton, weighing 450 pounds each; he raised on that farm eleven bales of cotton, weighing 450 pounds each, and 25 barrels of corn, which left to the tenant eight bales of cotton, and 25 barrels of corn, pease, &c. The tenant bought nothing but a very small amount of very coarse food and clothing, using all the economy during the crop season to make no large account, thinking thereby to have something coming to him at settling day; but when settling day came the landlord had so enlarged his account as to cover everything — the eight bales of cotton, the 25 barrels of corn, pease, and all, and then said that the tenant lacked a little of paying out, although cotton sold at ten cents per pound. This and numerous other things is the cause of the exodus.

——

Probably, in the 1870 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farm laborer Thomas Bynum, 32; wife Bethana, 28; and children James, 11, Oliver, 8, Mary, 6, Lavinia, 4, and “no name,” 2; and Lucy Pitt, 53. “Ages of this family are in doubt.”

In the 1880 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: merchant P.J. Turnbull, 29, and family.

In the 1900 census of Indianapolis, Howard County, Indiana: at 1622 Guffin Street, street laborer Albert Whitley, 36; Polly, 32; children Cicero, 13, Mamie, 12, Albert, 9, Leonard, 6, and Wilber, 3; and grandfather Thomas Bynum, 65. All the adults were born in North Carolina.

Senate Report 693, Part 2, 2nd Session, 46th Congress.  Proceedings of the Select Committee of the United States Senate to Investigate the Causes of the Removal of the Negroes from the Southern States to the Northern States (1880).  U.S. Congressional Serial Set.

Dr. Butterfield goes home.

Thirty years after he establish a dental practice in Wilson and became one of the early architects and builders of the town’s nascent civil rights strategy, the Bermuda Record published a glowing report of George K. Butterfield‘s return to his home country.

Bermuda Recorder, 10 August 1957.

[N.B.: Dr. Butterfield‘s son, shown peering at the camera in the photograph above, is George K. Butterfield, Jr., member of the United States House of Representatives.]

What happened when white perverts threatened to slap colored school teachers.

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New York Age, 2 April 1921.

In local lore, this incident has been conflated with the Charles Coon slapping incident of 1918. The teachers “Burns” and “Izell” were probably Georgia M. Burke and Mary C. Euell. Euell had been at the center of the Coon matter. Capable, courageous Mr. Bowser, “very much of a man,” was likely Burt L. Bowser, who owned a small restaurant. The Gay Brothers, Charles and Allen T., operated a dry goods store at 216-220 East Nash Street.

The Negro ministers were well received.

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Pittsburgh Courier, 12 March 1938.

  • Richard A.G. Foster — As shown here, Rev. Foster was a steadfast and enthusiastic proponent of civil rights.
  • E.O. Saunders — South Carolina native Otto Eugene Sanders was newly arrived from Charlotte, North Carolina.
  • Bryant P. Coward

First Presbyterian Church of Elm City stands up to the Ku Klux Klan.

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This handsome, but bedraggled, church looms over a dead-end intersection just off the main road bisecting Elm City. It now appears to be home to a Tabernacle of Prayer for All People. It began life, however, as First Presbyterian Church, one of many congregations in eastern North Carolina fostered by Rev. Clarence Dillard, but one with a unique and startling place in the Civil Rights history of the Region.

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From The 112th Annual Report of the Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (1914).

Here’s how the story is told by the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Cape Fear Presbytery Centennial 1886-1986:

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Charles W. McKinney gives a historian’s perspective in Dispatches from the Front: The Civil Right Act and Pursuit of Freedom in a Small Southern City:

“The first volley between local authorities and activists in Wilson in the summer of 1964 gave change agents the opportunity to continue their pursuit of greater freedom. In the early part of June, James Costen, the young pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, a small church located in Elm City, invited an interracial group of northern students from New York and Pennsylvania to Wilson to paint the outside of the church. Costen and his parishioners were African American. Upon arriving in the small town north of Wilson, the group of students was approached by Robert Jones, Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. In a not-so-veiled threat, Jones informed the students that he could not guarantee their safety if they remained in town and attempted to paint the church alongside Negro volunteers. The northern volunteers promptly packed up and returned home.

“Events in Elm City quickly took a turn toward the bizarre. On the evening of July 9, Costen received a phone call from Jones, who informed him that he had gathered approximately two hundred fifty Klan members from Wilson and Nash Counties in front of the town hall. Then, Jones offered the services of his crew to paint the church. Jones’ assortment of handymen included thirty-five expert painters equipped with forty floodlights and forty gallons of paint. They would work all night, said Jones, and finish by noon the next day. Undoubtedly flustered by the Grand Dragon’s offer to paint the rural black church, Costen demurred, maintaining that the decision to paint the church now rested in the hands of his superiors. Jones accused the pastor of “not wanting to get the church painted, but of desiring to make a racial issue by bringing in outsiders.” Jones then informed Costen that an “integrated brush” would not touch the walls of the church, and that another attempt toward that end could get somebody killed. When Mayor George Tyson found out about the presence of hundreds of Klansmen armed with paintbrushes and paint in his city, he called the sheriff’s office in Wilson. The sheriff’s office then notified the mayor that Governor Terry Sanford had just mobilized the state highway patrol. Authorities broke up the assembly around eleven that evening. “I feel safe in saying,” Costen later told a reporter, “at this point we will refuse their help.””

Please follow the link above for the full text of the article, which was published on-line in History Now: The Journal of Gilder-Lehrman Institute. First Presbyterian’s resistance, which unfolded during the mounting tensions created by the disappearance in Mississippi of civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, received wide coverage across the country. Today, though, the story of this small rural church’s stand against the Klan is largely forgotten.

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Church’s location at 522 East Wilson Street, Elm City. (U.S. Highway, at bottom, is a north-south artery.) First Presbyterian has merged with Mount Pisgah Presbyterian in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

Hat tip to Cassandra W. Wiggins for identifying the photograph I took of the church in July 2016. Map courtesy of bing.com.

Now That He Is Safely Dead.

A Dead Man’s Dream

Now that he is safely dead,
Let us praise him.
Build monuments to his glory.
Sing Hosannas to his name.

Dead men make such convenient heroes.
For they cannot rise to challenge the images
That we might fashion from their lives.
It is easier to build monuments
Than to build a better world.

So now that he is safely dead,
We, with eased consciences will
Teach our children that he was a great man,
Knowing that the cause for which he
Lived is still a cause
And the dream for which he died is still a dream.
A dead man’s dream.

Carl Wendell Hines, Jr.

——

Carl W. Hines Jr. penned this devastating poem in 1965 on the occasion of the assassination of Malcolm X, but it is often, and perhaps more appropriately, associated with the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. Hines was born in Wilson in 1940, son of Carl W. Hines and Ruth Johnson Hines and grandson of Walter Scott Hines and Sarah Dortch Hines.

Herbert Reid, Harvard Law, Class of ’45.

More on Herbert O. Reid, Wilson-born scholar and civil rights attorney.

HERBERT O. REID

IN THE FIELD of constitutional law and in the protection of civil rights, Herbert O. Reid, who died on Friday at the age of 75, stood out. Because of Dr. Reid, a brilliant professor and former acting dean of the Howard University Law School, thousands of men and women across the country share a common vision of the majesty of the Constitution and the workability of America.

Except for his first year as a Howard Law School professor in 1947, when he said he learned more from his students than he taught them, Herb Reid had a major hand in producing a host of this country’s most distinguished lawyers, public officials and judges. Many served with him during the decades of the 1950s and 1960s as legal guardians of the civil rights movement. But unlike many legal scholars, Dr. Reid was as comfortable in the courtroom and in the backroom of politics as he was in the classroom. Everywhere he landed, he became a pivotal figure. He took on the exclusion of New York Rep. Adam Clayton Powell from the House of Representatives in 1967 and won a U.S. Supreme Court victory two years later. School segregation in America fell before him and a handful of lawyers from the Howard Law School faculty and the NAACP who participated in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education and the companion desegregation cases for the District of Columbia. They carried the day in court, in part, because of the preparation and the dry runs that took place under Herb Reid’s drilling in the basement of the law school.

Dr. Reid was always on call for rescue operations. Sixteen years ago, when the board of education was mired down in the firing of yet another school superintendent, it was he who took on the excruciatingly difficult role of hearing officer and, with a degree of incisiveness and dignity, helped end that long ordeal for the city. It was that sense of duty to the city and his friends from the movement that led Dr. Reid to serve as former mayor Marion Barry’s personal counsel and then as a member of that administration. Without Herb Reid’s being there, friends say, it could have been even worse.

A graduate of Harvard law school himself, Dr. Reid frequently spoke lovingly and longingly about the “golden age” of the Howard Law School — the period in the 1940s and early 1950s, when distinguished faculty worked with students and other lawyers on the major civil rights issues of the time. Herbert Reid was a central part of it all.

Washington Post, 17 June 1991.

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On 16 October 1940, Reid registered for the World War II draft at the Harvard University precinct in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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New York Age, 8 December 1945.

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New York Age, 12 July 1947.

U.S. WWII Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947, [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

Newsy notes from Wide Awake.

The state colored firemen‘s convention came to town. Negroes, who “generally have very fine, rich, resonant voices, full of volume and melody,” sang. Braswell R. Winstead, normally “well-behaved,” had the “bad taste” to “inject venom” into the festivities by complaining of “being oppressed and denied of their rights.” But the finest and most learned Frank S. Hargrave poured oil on the waters with some “very happy and admirably conceived remarks.”

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Raleigh Morning Post, 11 August 1904.