Category Archives: Activism

The First Freedom Rides (part 1 of 2)

Before Rosa Parks, there was Irene Morgan

On Saturday, February 28, 2009, the Chapel Hill/Carrboro NAACP, the Town of Chapel Hill, and the people of the Chapel Hill community gathered for a dedication of a highway historical marker to commemorate the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation (also known as the first “Freedom Rides”). The dedication included a march from Hargraves Community Center, down Franklin Street to the site of the marker at the southeast corner of Rosemary and Columbia Streets.

Attending the ceremony was George M. Houser, organizer of and key participant in the 1947 freedom rides. Houser, a spry 92-year-old World War II era pacifist, spoke eloquently about his experiences and even broke out a lyric sheet to give a nice rendition of the song “You Don’t Have to Ride Jim Crow.”

This new historic marker in Chapel Hill commemorates a pivotal moment in the late-1940s struggle to desegregate interstate bus, air, and train travel across the United States. The Journey of Reconciliation sought to test the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia case – a ruling which outlawed the enforcement of state Jim Crow laws over interstate travel.  An interracial group of 16 activists, including George Houser and civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, embarked from Washington, D.C., traveling through the upper South.  They met with strong resistance throughout, with resistance turning to violence during their stopover in Chapel Hill.

Rather than just recount the whole story myself, I’ll let Houser and Rustin tell it in their own words. To document the experience of the Freedom Rides the two co-wrote the pamphlet, “We Challenged Jim Crow” (published by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Congress of Racial Equality).  The Southern Historical Collection happens to have a copy of it, as a part of the Charles M. Jones Papers.  We gladly reproduce it below.  The Chapel Hill portion of the story occurs on pages 5 and 6.

[Stay tuned for tomorrow's Part 2 post.  You'll hear more about Rev. Charles Jones's involvement in this moment in history and you'll get to hear some of the audio from an oral history with one of the freedom riders...]

Rev. James A. Felton: Montford Point Marine, Grassroots Organizer, Educator, and Family Man

[Today we feature the life and work of Reverend James A. Felton of Hertford County, North Carolina. The Southern Historical Collection is proud to be the repository that preserves a small collection of papers from the Felton family (the James A. and Annie V. Felton Papers, Collection #5161, finding aid). The following biographical note comes from the finding aid for the Felton Papers.]

James Andrew Felton was born on 6 July 1919 in Hertford, Perquimans County, N.C. After spending almost three years in the United States Marine Corps, he earned his B.S. from Elizabeth City State Teachers College (now Elizabeth City State University) and his M.A. from North Carolina College at Durham (now North Carolina Central University). He taught in the Greene and Hertford County school systems for 20 years, and, in 1965 he published “Fruits of Enduring Faith,” a story that dramatizes the human issues behind the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In the mid-1960s, Felton and Reverend John L. Scott of New Ahoskie Baptist Church formed the People’s Program on Poverty, an African American organization created to study and fight poverty on the grass-roots level. Through his work in this program, Felton founded the first Family Training Center in the United States. During this time, he was also actively involved in organizations such as the President’s Commission on Rural Poverty, the North Carolina Family Life Council, and a local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

In 1980, Felton established the C. S. Brown School Auditorium Restoration Association to restore Brown Hall, a building that had been part of the campus of Chowan Academy, an African American school founded in 1886 by Calvin Scott Brown. The C. S. Brown Regional Cultural Arts Center and Museum in Winton, N.C., opened in 1986.

James A. Felton married Annie Vaughan on 3 August 1947. They had six children: James Andrew, Jr., Keith, Maria, Sharon, Michele, and Camilla. James A. Felton died in Winton, N.C., on 6 October 1994.

[To learn more about the contents of the SHC's Felton Papers collection, please see the finding aid].

Creator of the Month… Guion Griffis Johnson

[Each month we feature a "creator" or one of the SHC's manuscript collections. In archival terms, a creator is defined as an individual, group, or organization that is responsible for a collection's production, accumulation, or formation.]

Guion Griffis Johnson of Chapel Hill, N.C., was a professor, author, scholar, journalist, women’s advocate, and general civic leader. Johnson held a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of North Carolina. She published three books: A Social History of the Sea Islands (1930), Antebellum North Carolina (1937), and Volunteers in Community Service (1967). Her husband was Guy Johnson, professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In the 1920s and 1930s, Johnson and her husband worked together at the Institute for Research in Social Science at University of North Carolina. Continue reading

Early interracial conferences, Part III

Negro-White Conference, Shaw University

Pamphlet, #4107 Olive M. Stone papers, folder 29

Southern Conference for Human Welfare
20-23 November 1938, Birmingham Ala.
This is a pamphlet from a third interracial conference attended by Olive M. Stone. Inside it describes topics to be discussed at the conference, as well as the purpose of having such a conference: bringing together progressive leaders in the South.

“The Conference issues an urgent invitation to all Southern progressives -individuals and organizations- to attend its sessions and participate in the discussions and conference decisions on suggested remedies for Southern ills. Subjects to be discussed will include public health, education, child labor and youth problems, race relations, prison reform, labor relations, farm tenancy, suffrage, and constitutional rights…
…There are many liberal thinkers and leaders in the South. Their number is rapidly increasing. Progressive ideas and the desire for progressive action are spreading. Their leaders have heretofore been isolated and scattered, the effectiveness of their work limited by lack of coordination. It is believed that the Conference, by providing a meeting ground for all Southern progressives, will promost mutual trust and cooperation between them for greater service to the South.”

Finding Aid for the Olive M. Stone Papers (#4107)

Related Posts:

Early interracial conferences, Part I

Olive M. StoneOlive M. Stone, an Alabama native, was a sociologist whose work focused on social welfare, race relations, and southern farmers. That’s her, pictured here in Russia, 1931. Stone’s involvement in civil rights and radical politics brought her to a number of southern and northern interracial conferences in the 1930s. This post is the first of three that will highlight some of the documents that represent these conferences in the Olive M. Stone Papers, illustrating some of the earlier stirrings of the Civil Rights Movement.

Swarthmore Institute of Race Relations

"The Institute of Race Relations: an attempt at evaluation by a southern woman," #4107 Olive M. Stone papers, folder 6

The Swarthmore institute of Race Relations
July 1934, Swarthmore College, P.A.
Stone wrote this evaluation of the conference, praising it for it’s “truly inter-racial character.” The conference was sponsored by Pennsylvania Society of Friends, lasted twenty-nine days, and featured twenty-nine African American speakers.
Excerpt:


“Too often, at inter-racial conferences which I have attended in the South, there is a patronizing approach on the part of the whites and an ingratiating appeal from the Negroes. At such meetings, the races usually sit on opposite sides of a public hall and are discreetly careful to discuss only the most flagrant abuses of discrimination which neither would dare challenge; as, for example, the undue cruelty administered to a certain Negro on a “jim-crow” street-car rather than the whole question of segregation in transportation…”

Finding Aid for the Olive M. Stone Papers (#4107)