NAACP

Sankofa: remembering Marie Everett.

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For hundreds of years, the Akan of Ghana and Ivory Coast have used symbols, called adinkra, as visual representations of concepts and aphorisms. Sankofa is often illustrated as a bird looking over its back. Sankofa means, literally, “go back and get it.” Black Wide Awake exists to do just that.

I had never heard of Marie Everett until I read Charles W. McKinney’s excellent Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina. I’m not sure how it is possible that her struggle was so quickly forgotten in Wilson. However, it is never too late to reclaim one’s history. To go back and get it.  So, here is the story of the fight for justice for Everett — a small victory that sent a big message to Wilson’s black community and likely a shudder of premonition through its white one:

On 6 October 1945, 15 year-old Marie Everett took in a movie at the Carolina Theatre in downtown Wilson. (The Carolina admitted black patrons to its balcony.) As Everett stood with friend Julia Armstrong at the concession stand, a cashier yelled at her to get in line. Everett responded that she was not in line and, on the way back to her seat, stuck out her tongue. According to a witness, the cashier grabbed Everett, slapped her and began to choke her. Everett fought back. Somebody called the police, and Everett was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. The next day in court, Everett’s charge was upgraded to simple assault. Though this misdemeanor carried a maximum thirty-day sentence and fifty-dollar fine, finding her guilty, the judge upped Everett’s time to three months in county jail. As Wilson’s black elite fretted and dragged their feet, the town’s tiny NAACP chapter swung into action, securing a white lawyer from nearby Tarboro and notifying the national office. In the meantime, Everett was remanded to jail to await a hearing on her appeal. There she sat for four months (though her original sentence had expired) until a court date. Wilson County appointed two attorneys to the prosecution, and one opened with a statement to the jury that the case would “show the niggers that the war is over.” Everett was convicted anew, and Judge C.W. Harris, astonishingly, increased her sentence from three to six months, to be served — even more astonishingly — at the women’s prison in Raleigh. (In other words, hard time.) Everett was a minor, though, and the prison refused to admit her. Branch secretary Argie Evans Allen of the Wilson NAACP jumped in again to send word to Thurgood Marshall, head of the organization’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Marshall engaged M. Hugh Thompson, a black lawyer in Durham, who alerted state officials to the shenanigans playing out in Wilson. After intervention by the State Commissioner of Paroles and Governor R. Gregg Cherry, Everett walked out of jail on March 18. She had missed nearly five months of her freshman year of high school.

The Wilson Daily Times, as was its wont, gave Everett’s story short-shrift. However, the Norfolk Journal & Guide, an African-American newspaper serving Tidewater Virginia, stood in the gap. (Contrary to the article’s speculation, there was already a NAACP branch on the ground in Wilson, and it should have been credited with taking bold action to free Everett.)

Norfolk Journal & Guide, 23 March 1946.

Sankofa bird, brass goldweight, 19th century, British Museum.org. For more about the Carolina Theatre, including blueprints showing its separate entrance and ticket booth for African-Americans, see here.

Christopher L. Taylor, California dentist and civil rights leader.

Dentist and civil rights leader Christopher L. Taylor was born in Wilson, North Carolina, to Russell Buxton Taylor and Viola Gaither on December 21, 1923. Taylor served in the United States Army in World War II. In 1945, he received a bachelor of arts degree from Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina. Five years later, he earned a D.D.S. degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Taylor opened his dental practice in the then-predominately African American Watts district of Los Angeles, California, in 1951. During the 1950s and 1960s, he provided bus service to his clinic and sponsored the annual Children’s Christmas Parade and Party. He also gave baskets of food to needy families at Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

Christopher Taylor played a major role in the then-evolving civil rights movement in the largest city in the West and the third largest city in the nation. In the early 1960s, he headed the Los Angeles branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In May of 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. addressed a civil rights rally of thirty-five thousand people at Wrigley Field Baseball Stadium in Los Angeles.

Shortly after King’s visit, Taylor established the United Civil Rights Committee (UCRC) and directed it as the committee became the most vocal organization for black equality in the history of the city. UCRC included members of the NAACP, American Civil Liberties Union, and the Congress of Racial Equality. Several individual black leaders also belonged to UCRC. Among them were Los Angeles councilman Tom Bradley, leading civil rights attorney Loren Miller, and Marnesba Tackett, head of the NAACP’s education committee.

On June 24, 1963, Taylor and Tackett organized a mass protest against school segregation. Led by UCRC, over a thousand citizens marched from the First African Episcopal Church through the downtown business district to the offices of the Los Angeles Board of Education. It was, to that time, the largest demonstration for African American civil rights in the city’s history. Taylor led nine other marches for school integration. He also marched throughout Los Angeles County in 1963 and 1964 for housing integration and employment opportunities for African American residents.

Taylor also engaged in important political work which he saw as parallel to and supportive of his civil rights efforts. He served as eastside Los Angeles chairman for the successful re-election of California Governor Edmund G. ”Pat” Brown in 1962 and the election of Tom Bradley to the Los Angeles mayoralty in 1973. Bradley’s election marked the first time since the Spanish-Mexican era that someone of African ancestry had served as mayor of the city, and Taylor was publicly proud of the role he had played in the campaign.

During the 1960s, Taylor received numerous awards for his civil rights leadership. Among them were the NAACP Life Membership Award, Los Angeles City Council Award for Civil Rights, and the Presidential Commendation for Human Rights.

Christopher L. Taylor died in Wilson, North Carolina, on August 16, 1995, at the age of seventy-one. He was survived by two sons.

Sources:
“Dr. Christopher L. Taylor, Noted Civil Rights Leader,” Los Angeles Sentinel, November 8, 1995; N.C. Department of Health, North Carolina Deaths, 1993-1996; Josh Sides, L.A. City Limits: African American Los Angeles from the Great Depression to the Present (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).

— “Christopher L. Taylor (1923-1995),” African-American History in the West, blackpast.org