civil rights

Karl Fleming’s Wilson.

The Wilson Daily Times is the source of many of the newspaper articles posted at Black Wide-Awake. I am not unmindful of the racist over- and undertones of many of the clippings, especially those reporting alleged criminal activity. Nevertheless, they have value as imperfect documentation of the existence of so many African-Americans whose lives went otherwise unrecorded. Journalist Karl Fleming made his name covering the Civil Rights movement — most notably, Freedom Summer — for Newsweek magazine in the early 1960s. Fleming’s newspaper career began about 1947 at the Daily Times, which, in Son of the Rough South: An Uncivil Memoir (2005), he credits with introducing him to the brutal racist policies of his native state.

Fleming devotes several chapters to his time in Wilson. His behind-the-scenes explanation of the Times‘ race conventions is illuminating:

“The style of the Daily Times decreed that unmarried black women of whatever age be called ‘girl.’ A married ‘colored’ woman after being identified by her whole name, perhaps, perhaps Elsie Smith, in the first mention, would in succeeding graphs be called ‘the Smith woman.’ This avoided the honorifics ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs.’ being applied to colored women. Colored men, of course, were never referred to as ‘Mr.,’ not even on the full page that ran ever Saturday headlined ‘News of the Colored Community,’ which catalogued the doings of the colored Charles L. Darden [sic] High School, church and Sunday school events, marriages, funerals, and social clubs. Darden ran the colored funeral home and a colored insurance agency and was the colored community’s most substantial citizen.”

His physical description of the town remains recognizable in many ways, even in the water fountains have been dismantled:

“Wilson and the surrounding county was half white and half colored. The town squatted in the sweltering heart of the table-flat and sandy North Carolina coastal plain, throughout which tobacco was the main cash crop. In the center of town, in front of a marble courthouse with six fluted Doric columns, two magnolia trees, and a confederate statue, were ‘White’ and ‘Colored’ water fountains.”

“The old train depot, the faded brick six-story Cherry Hotel alongside it, and the tracks of the Atlantic Coast Line railroad separated these black and white worlds.”

“What the colored people across the tracks may actually have felt about segregation in general and separate schools specifically no one in the white world knew. It was simply assumed that what they said to the white people was true — that they were content with the status quo. The pillars of the black community, the ministers and school teachers and the owners of the few colored businesses allowed to exist because whites wanted nothing to do with them — such as restaurant, beauty parlors, barber shops, funeral homes, pool halls, and juke joints patronized entirely by colored people — did not publicly protest or resist. There seemed to be among them a seeming general air of good-natured acceptance. When one of them excelled, or died, it was said that “he was a credit to his race,” suggesting that ordinary blackness was a debit somehow.”

Fleming exaggerates the uniform decrepitude of East Wilson’s building stock. As this blog has amply demonstrated, East Wilson was a lot more than shotgun rentals in need of whitewash. There were certainly a fair number of those though.

“The colored community was a close-packed warren of gray unpainted shotgun shacks rented from white landlords on dirt alleys across the railroad tracks. Its only paved roads were Nash Street, becoming Highway 41 [91] going east into the country towards the coast, and U.S. 301 going north and south, the principal highway from New York to Miami. Its inhabitants were for the most part menials of every sort, field hands on the surrounding tobacco farms, manual laborers for the city and county maintenance departments, and unskilled workers in the tobacco warehouses and wholesale packing houses.”

And then this observation, followed by a truism:

“Few white people ventured into ‘niggertown.’ … The arrival of a white man could mean nothing good. He was either ‘the law,’ a bill collector, or someone selling something — usually life of burial insurance.”

Fleming also offers a reporter’s assessment of (and white Wilson’s take on) the trial of Allen T. Reid, who was sentenced to death in 1949 for burglary.

 

The Negro ministers were well received.

pc 3 12 1938

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.

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.

Rev. Foster flays white Methodism.

Rev. Richard A.G. Foster, a native of Whiteville, North Carolina, did not stay long at Wilson’s Saint John A.M.E. Zion, but he certainly made his mark there and elsewhere.

PC 11 5 1938

Pittsburgh Courier, 5 November 1938.

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Pittsburgh Courier, 21 January 1939.

PC 5 13 1939

Pittsburgh Courier, 13 May 1939.

NYA 10 19 1940

New York Age, 19 October 1940.

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Telegram from Negro Ministers of New Haven to W.E.B. DuBois, 21 April 1945; W. E. B. Du Bois Papers (MS 312). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.

Pitt Cour 8 22 1964

Pittsburgh Courier, 22 August 1964.

(For more about The Men of Tomorrow, see here.)

If I can’t get it in the car, I don’t want it.

“The Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ) conducts research and supports policy initiatives on anti-civil rights violence in the United States and other miscarriages of justice of that period. CRRJ serves as a resource for scholars, policymakers, and organizers involved in various initiatives seeking justice for crimes of the civil rights era.” In the summer of 2013, students from Northeastern University Law School’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Clinic traveled to Wilson to research the murders of Otis Newsome, a World War II veteran shot to death while attempting buy brake fluid at a filling station in Wilson on March 27, 1948, and J.C. Farmer, a 19 year-old veteran murdered by Alcoholic Beverage Control officers following a dispute with a self-deputized constable in 1946. Visit CRRJ’s website to find trial documents, media reports, and the Clinic’s essay concerning their findings in the Newsome case.

Herbert O. Reid Sr., civil rights attorney.

“Herbert O. Reid Sr., Key Adviser to Barry, Dies”

Herbert O. Reid Sr., 75, legal counsel and key adviser to former D.C. mayor Marion Barry and a former acting dean and constitutional law professor at Howard University law school, died of cancer yesterday at George Washington University Hospital.

Reid also was a leading civil rights lawyer who participated in several landmark cases that helped dismantle racial segregation in public facilities. Those included the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case in which the Supreme Court declared segregation in the nation’s public schools to be unconstitutional.

He helped argue then-Rep. Adam Clayton Powell’s case against his 1967 exclusion from the House of Representatives, winning a 1969 ruling from the Supreme Court that the barring of the Harlem Democrat from the House was unconstitutional because he met all legal requirements for the post and had been duly elected.

But in recent years, Reid was best known as a major player in the Barry administration and the mayor’s foremost personal troubleshooter. The two men met during the 1965 civil rights demonstrations in Selma, Ala., and they became close friends when Barry came to Washington as an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee soon after.

“I guess it’s a son-teacher relationship,” Reid once said. “The one thing that’s always been very exciting about Marion is that he’s interesting. We share a tremendous enthusiasm that life can get better . . . . Marion was one of the few young civil rights activists who had some tolerance for the advice of those over 40.”

As an influential figure in Barry’s inner circle, Reid served as point man for the mayor in several sensitive areas. He was acting corporation counsel from 1989 until Barry’s final term as mayor ended in January.

As the mayor’s personal counsel, he looked after Barry’s interests during investigations that led to the convictions of high-ranking and mid-level D.C. government employees, including former deputy mayor Ivanhoe Donaldson, of crimes related to their official duties.

In this role Reid often clashed with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, angrily accusing prosecutors of leaking to the news media information derogatory to the mayor. But he did not represent the mayor in his trial last summer on drug charges. That defense was handled by R. Kenneth Mundy.

Yesterday, Barry described Reid as “a brilliant lawyer and an unsung hero of the civil rights and human rights movement. This community and a lot of us who were close to Herb will miss him.”

Reid, who lived in Washington, was born in Wilson, N.C., and graduated from Howard University. He served in the Army during World War II and received a law degree from Harvard University law school. He joined the law faculty at Howard in 1947, and held an endowed chair there as the Charles Hamilton Houston distinguished professor of law. He was acting dean of the law school from 1972 to 1974. He retired from the Howard faculty in 1988.

His years at Howard covered a period in which top black law students came to be aggressively recruited by the nation’s prestigious mainstream law schools, which previously had been cool toward the admission of minorities and women. He was acting dean during a time of student protests and a boycott that followed an increase in failing grades. In the face of this development, Reid insisted that Howard should continue to maintain high academic standards, despite the loss of some top-ranking students who might otherwise have enrolled at Howard.

In the late 1950s, one of his law students at Howard was a young Army veteran of the Korean War from Richmond named L. Douglas Wilder, now governor of Virginia. Once, when Wilder showed up for class hung over from a night on the town, Reid called him aside.

“You’ve got a good mind, but I’m going to fail your little ass,” the professor said. “You’re lazy, you’re not productive, and you’re not going to cut it.”

Thereafter, Wilder buckled down and passed all his courses, including Reid’s.

While on the Howard faculty, Reid also was special counsel for the NAACP. In this capacity he took on a variety of civil rights cases that included defending the rights of poor tenants to improve their living conditions through rent strikes and the defense of seven persons arrested in a 1966 White House sit-in to protest racial injustices in Selma. He served on a private commission that investigated relations between the nation’s police departments and the Black Panther Party during the early 1970s.

Reid also served on the board of trustees of the University of the District of Columbia. In this role he undertook the defense in 1985 of then-UDC President Robert L. Green, who was under fire for misuse of university funds for travel, consulting and sending flowers to personal friends. Green eventually resigned.

Reid’s marriage to Ann Thompson Reid ended in divorce.

Survivors include his companion, M.L. Carstarphen, and a daughter, Carlene Reid Funn, both of Washington; and a grandchild. A son, Herbert O. Reid Jr., died last month.

Washington Post, 15 June 1991.

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“Herbert O. Reid Sr., 75, Lawyer Who Taught Many Black Leaders”

Herbert O. Reid Sr., a prominent civil rights lawyer and a longtime adviser to former Mayor of Washington, Marion S. Barry Jr., died of prostate cancer on Friday at his home in Washington. He was 75 years old.

Mr. Reid, who served on the faculty of the Howard University School of Law for 41 years, also taught many of today’s black leaders, including the Governor of Virginia, L. Douglas Wilder, and the current Mayor of Washington, Sharon Pratt Dixon.

“He served the longest on the faculty of any professor in the history of this school,” said J. Clay Smith Jr., the dean of the Howard law school and a former student of Mr. Reid. Major Desegregation Rulings

Mr. Reid was a participant in several legal cases that led to major Supreme Court desegregation rulings, including Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, which ended the practice of segregation in public school systems.

In the late 1960’s, he assisted in the defense of members of the the Chicago Seven against contempt of court charges and in former New York Representative Adam Clayton Powell’s legal battle to regain his seat in Congress.

In recent years, Mr. Reid was best known as a high-level adviser and mentor for Mr. Barry. The two met at a civil rights march on Selma, Ala., in 1965.

Mr. Reid became the district’s acting corporation counsel from 1989 until Mr. Barry left office in January. He did not represent Mr. Barry in his trial on drug charges last summer, but he did act as the mayor’s counsel during previous inquiries into municipal wrongdoing. He was a frequent critic of the United States Attorney’s office, which he accused of leaking derogatory information about the mayor to the news media. Served Without Fanfare

“I treasured Dr. Reid,” Mr. Barry said in a statement released yesterday. “He was a warm, giving, sharing human being who served people without fanfare or asking for accolades. And even in serious situations, he had a sense of humor.”

Mr. Reid was born in Wilson, N.C. He was an honors graduate of Howard University in 1940 and completed his legal studies at Harvard University School of Law. In 1945, after serving in World War II with an all-black New York National Guard regiment and fighting in Okinawa, he became the first black clerk at the Massachusetts Supreme Court.

Mr. Reid joined the Howard University School of Law faculty in 1947 and served as acting dean from 1972 to 1974. He retired from there in 1988. He also served as a special counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and on the Board of Trustees for the University of the District of Columbia.

His marriage to Ann Thompson Reid ended in divorce. His son, Herbert O. Reid Jr., also a lawyer, died last month. He is survived by his companion Mary L. Carstarphen, a lawyer; a sister, Thelma Reid Whitehead; a daughter, Carlene Reid Funn and a grandchild, all of Washington.

New York Times, 16 June 1991.

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Photo, Jet magazine, 22 October 1990.

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In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Judge D. Reid, 47, wife Elenora P., 41, and children Bruce P., 17, James D., 15, Thelma R., 11, Carl F., 7, and Herbert O., 4.