civil rights

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.

4 2 1921

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.

The roots of Rev. W.O. Wells.

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The Rev. Dr. Willie Oliver Wells Sr.–- pastor of Greater St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, in Cocoa, Florida, for more than 50 years, well-known civil rights leader, and great servant of the Lord in church and civic affairs –- died on November 4, 2015. He was 84.

Rev. Wells was an inspiring leader who identified with the struggle for decency, justice and security for all people. The U.S. Army veteran served the church and his country with fearless courage and was a champion of all causes he believed to be right. His kind, friendly spirit will be missed, especially by those who worked closely with him.

Rev. Wells rendered faithful service and will long be remembered for his many contributions to the betterment of our community. Not the least of these is the part he played in the development of affordable housing for local residents, equal opportunity employment, and his leadership and courageous support of racial justice.

Rev. Wells was born on April 11, 1931, in Miami. He was the youngest of seven children born to Lillie and Rev. Oliver W. Wells Sr., pastor of Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church, Fort Lauderdale.

He graduated from Dillard High School in 1949 and attended Bethune Cookman College on a football scholarship. During his sophomore year, his father passed, and he entered the U.S. Army. He attended leadership school in Virginia, and was stationed in Germany for two years. Afterwards, he attended Fisk University and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree. Also, he attended the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, and graduated with a Bachelor of Theology degree in 1955.

In 1955, he married Annie Ruth Collins of Cocoa. The couple lived in Tennessee, and he was pastor of Westwood Baptist Church, Nashville, for two years.

In 1959, when there was a vacancy for a pastor at Greater St. Paul Baptist Church, Rev. Wells was selected to fill that position. Then, the couple moved to Cocoa.

At that time, blacks were barred from public beaches, parks, restrooms and restaurants, in Brevard County and elsewhere. Rev. Wells worked to change the oppressive “Jim Crow” laws. During the early 1960’s, Rev. Wells was a Freedom Rider who led non-violent civil protests. He was an original member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference -–along with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.–- and during his lifetime Rev. Wells spearheaded many projects to combat racism, poverty, drug abuse and crime. He was instrumental in bringing about desegregation in Brevard County, where he led anti-segregation campaigns and held various civic leadership positions.

He served as president of the Brevard County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, vice-president of the Florida branch of the NAACP, and chairman of the Redevelopment Commission of the City of Cocoa.

Rev. Wells established the Community Action Agency of Brevard, which provided low-income day care centers; Project Uplift, a fund for interest free loans to the church’s members; and in 1968, he constructed two low-rent apartment complexes, Shull Manor in Melbourne and Tropical Manor in Merritt Island. In 1978, Dr. Wells led Greater St. Paul Baptist Church in building a $1.2 million complex.

Dr. Annie Ruth Wells passed in 2008. Rev. Wells retired as pastor of Greater St. Paul Baptist Church in 2011. He leaves to mourn his passing his four children, Rev. Willie Oliver Wells Jr. (Jimmie Lee), Rev. Oliver W. Wells (Linda), and Annette O. Wells, all of Cocoa; and Dee Dee Wells (Michael) of Maryland; and 10 grandchildren.

——

Florida civil rights leader Rev. W.O. Wells had roots in Wilson County. His grandfather Burt Wells was born in Toisnot township circa 1872 to Alexander and Nancy Joyner Wells and migrated to south Georgia in the late 1800s. Burt Wells’ son Oliver W. Wells, born in 1895 in Willacoochee, Georgia, was Rev. W.O. Wells’ father.

On 28 May 1868, Ellick Wells, son of Kain and Milly Wells, married Nancy Joyner, daughter of Polly Joyner, at Harris Winstead’s in Wilson County.

On 19 December 1868, Isaac Wells, son of Cain and Milly Wells, married Clarky Farmer, daughter of Ben Dowley and Ellen Dowly, at C.C. Barnes’ in Wilson County.

In 1868, Cain Wells obtained a license to marry Sarah Braswell, daughter of Quincy Braswell. The license was not registered with the Wilson County clerk and, presumably, the couple never married.

Toney Wells, son of Cain and Milly Wells, married Laura Ethridge, daughter of Julia Ethridge, in Liberty township, Nash County, on 30 January 1869.

In the 1870 census of Upper Town Creek township, Edgecombe County: Ellick Wells, 26, Nancy, 18, Clara, 2, and Milly Batchelor, 70.

Nancy died in the early 1870s, and, on 3 August 1879, Alex Wells, 33, married Easter Parker, 22, in Wilson County.

In the 1880 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farm laborer Al’x Wells, 35, wife Easter, 19, and children Delpha, 10, Birt, 8, and Arnold, 7.

Delphia Wells married William Drake on 1 July 1888 at A.F. Williams’ in Toisnot township.

In perhaps the early 1890s, Burt Wells and perhaps his father Alex moved from Wilson County to south Georgia. The 1900 census of Pearson township, Coffee County, Georgia, shows: Alexander Wells, 60, born in North Carolina, with his wife of seven years, Mary Ann, 40. Burt is not found in the 1900 census, but the World War I draft registrations of his oldest sons Willie, Oliver and Dewey show that they were born in Coffee (now Atkinson) County, Georgia.

In the 1910 census of Pearson township, Coffee County, Georgia: farmer Burt Wells, 45, wife Susie, 34, and children Sindy, 15, Elisah, 14, Willie, 12, Oliver, 11, Duey, 10, Oscar, 8, Delphy, 7, Squire, 6, Arnold, 4, Felton, 2, boarder Solomon Street, 21.

In the 1920 census of Pearson township, Atkinson County, Georgia: on Columbine Road, Burt Wells, 50, wife Lela, 30, and children Dewey, 22, Arnel, 13, Felton, 10, Osie, 3½, and Odom, 1 1/2.

In the 1930 census of Military District 1026, Atkinson County, Georgia: North Carolina-born Bert Wells, 60, wife Lelia, 37, and children Ocie, 13, Odom, 11.

Photograph credit to and obituary adapted from www.blackchristiannews.com.