Tag Archives: civil rights

Four activists to be honored in Chapel Hill, SHC preserves documentation of their legacy

This Sunday, August 28, 2011, four names will be added to a plaque at Chapel Hill’s “Peace and Justice Plaza.” Yonni Chapman, Rebecca Clark, Rev. Charles M. Jones and Dan Pollitt will all be honored posthumously for their contributions to civil rights, social justice and equality in the Chapel Hill community. The ceremony will begin at 3pm in front of the Historic Chapel Hill Post Office on Franklin Street, just across the street from UNC’s McCorkle Place. For the full story, see the article, “Four Honored for Activism,” from the Chapel Hill News.

The Southern Historical Collection is proud to preserve a large body of material that documents the lives and legacies of these four activists, including:

Charles Miles Jones Papers – The collection includes correspondence, church documents and publications, clippings, and other items reflecting Jones’s ministry and concern for civil rights. Materials generally focus on his public rather than personal life with a special emphasis on the 1952-1953 investigation of his Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church ministry. General correspondence includes letters from supporters (among them Frank Porter Graham) and detractors, commenting on the investigation, Jones’s sermons, and several well-publicized actions in support of social justice causes.

Oral history interview with Rebecca Clark (1 interview available online via DocSouth’s Oral Histories of the American South project) – In this interview, Rebecca Clark recalls living and working in segregated North Carolina. She finished her schooling in all-black schools, so the bulk of her experience with white people in a segregated context took place in the work world. There she experienced economic discrimination in a variety of forms, and despite her claims that many black people kept quiet in the face of racial discrimination at the time, she often agitated for, and won, better pay. Along with offering some information about school desegregation, this interview provides a look into the constricted economic lives of black Americans living under Jim Crow.

John K. Chapman Papers (available Fall 2011) – This collection documents Yonni Chapman’s social activism and academic achievements, and offers an account of nearly four decades of progressive racial, social, and economic justice struggles in the central North Carolina region. Organizational materials, including correspondence, notes, newsletters and reports, document the activities of the Communist Workers’ Party, the Federation for Progress, the Orange County Rainbow Coalition of Conscience, the New Democratic Movement, the Freedom Legacy Project, and the Campaign for Historical Accuracy and Truth, among other organizations on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, in Chapel Hill, N.C., Durham, N.C., Raleigh, N.C., and Greensboro, N.C. Workers’ rights and racial justice campaigns and commemorations, including those of the Greensboro Massacre and the campaign to end the Cornelia Phillips Spencer Bell Award on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, are documented in paper, audio, visual, and photographic formats.

Daniel H. Pollitt Papers (available Fall 2012) – This collection documents Dan Pollitt’s distinguished career as an attorney, professor in the University of North Carolina Law School, and civil rights activist in the American South. The collection documents Pollitt’s activities with a number of organizations, including: the National Labor Relations Board, the National Sharecroppers Fund, the NAACP, the North Carolina Civil Liberties Union, the American Association of University Professors, the Rural Advancement Fund, and other organizations. Material also covers Pollitt’s involvement with the Speaker Ban controversy at the University of North Carolina, his opposition to the death penalty in North Carolina, issues of congressional misconduct, and many other legal and ethical matters.

Oral history interviews with Daniel H. Pollitt (13 interviews, many of which are available online via DocSouth’s Oral Histories of the American South project)

Dr. Reginald A. Hawkins: North Carolina’s first African American gubernatorial candidatecan

“The establishment has discounted the poor, the black, the low-income and liberal whites. It had been divide and conquer. This is the dream I have for North Carolina: to bring us together, black and white…Too long have black people sought a place at the bargaining table, only to receive the crumbs after dinner is over.”

These were the words of Dr. Reginald Armistice Hawkins, given in a speech in 1968 as part of his campaign to become North Carolina’s governor.  Dr. Hawkins, a dentist and ordained Presbyterian minister from Charlotte, made history with his 1968 gubernatorial bid as he was the first African American in the history of the state to make a run for the office.

Today we feature this photograph, from the SHC’s Allard Lowenstein Papers (#4340), of Dr. Reginald Hawkins (at right) with Dr. Ralph David Abernethy, head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  This photograph is included in our current exhibit, “We Shall Not Be Moved: African Americans in the South, 18th Century to the Present,” on view until February 5, 2010.

Dr. Ralph David Abernethy (left) and Dr. Reginald Hawkins, from Allard Lowenstein Papers, #4340

Dr. Ralph David Abernethy (left) and Dr. Reginald A. Hawkins at a campaign event in Raleigh, N.C., 27 April 1968. Photograph from Allard Lowenstein Papers, SHC #4340.

The Delta Ministry, an ambitious self-help initiative for Mississippi

“Through the long, hot summer and the long cold winter, Delta Ministry looks ahead: to a total ministry, to growing self-respect and self-determination among delta Negroes, to a bold new start for some.”  So begins the text of a wonderful brochure (found in the SHC’s Delta Health Center Records) that tells the story of the Delta Ministry.

The Delta Ministry was a project begun in 1964 by the New York-based National Council of Churches to provide support to African Americans in the Mississippi Delta region. The project not only sought to bring economic aid to black Mississippians but also encouraged voter registration and greater political involvement.  According to Mark Newman’s 2004 book, Divine Agitators: The Delta Ministry and Civil Rights in Mississippi, the Delta Ministry began with a 10-year mandate but ended up stretching its support for the citizens of the Delta into the 1980s.  This, according to Newman, filled the vacuum created as other civil rights organizations, such as SNCC and CORE, discontinued similar programs of support for poor blacks in the Mississippi Delta.

The group has a fascinating story, much more deftly told by Newman’s extensively-researched book than I could do in this space.  The organization’s history deserves greater attention, it deserves even more ink from historians writing on the legacy of the American Civil Rights Movement.  As an intro, we hope you’ll read and enjoy this Delta Ministry brochure.   Click on each thumbnail to see a larger version of the image.  Finally, if you’re interested in digging deeper, there are other great materials in Box 59 of the SHC’s Delta Health Center Records.

Andrew Young oral history interview

Image of Andrew Young from Library of Congress (this public domain photograph is not part of the SHC's collections)

UNC’s Southern Oral History Program (SOHP) collects interviews with Southerners who have made significant contributions to a variety of fields and interviews that will render historically visible those whose experience is not reflected in traditional written sources. The Southern Historical Collection is the repository for oral histories collected by the SOHP.

The SOHP has digitized 500 interviews from the collection, through a project called Oral Histories of the American South. Periodically, “Southern Sources” will share links to audio of selected SOHP interviews.

Today, we are pleased to feature an SOHP interview with Andrew Young.  Andrew Young was the first African American congressman from Georgia since Reconstruction. First elected in 1972, Young was later appointed as ambassador to the United Nations by Jimmy Carter.

In this SOHP interview, Young discusses the nature of racial discrimination in the South and describes his involvement in voter registration drives. Throughout the interview, he draws comparisons between race relations within southern states and those between the North and South. According to Young, it was access to political power that ultimately altered the tides of racial prejudice in the South. He cites the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as a decisive turning point in race relations. For Young, it was the election of African Americans to positions of power that allowed African Americans to bring to fruition other advances they had made in education, business, and social standing.

Interview Menu (Description, Transcript, and Audio): Andrew Young interview menu (from the SOHP)

Link Directly to Audio File: audio of Andrew Young interview (from the SOHP)

This Day in History: Voting Rights Act signed into law

On this date, forty four years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the “National Voting Rights Act of 1965.”  The Act was intended to enforce the fifteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  It did so by outlawing disfranchisement practices adopted in many southern states after the Civil War, including literacy tests. Amazingly, the 1965 Act was ratified some 95 years after the fifteenth amendment was signed into law.

[For those keeping score, here's the legislative history of the Voting Rights Act of 1965: The Act was sent to Congress by President Johnson on March 17, 1965. The Senate passed the bill on May 11 (after a successful cloture vote on March 23); the House passed it on July 10. After differences between the two bills were resolved in conference, the House passed the Conference Report on August 3, the Senate on August 4. President Johnson signed the Act on August 6, 1965.]

The Photographs of Alexander Rivera

Harvey Beech (left) and J. Kenneth Lee

Harvey Beech (left) and J. Kenneth Lee

The image:  two young men stride through two large open doors.  Each man is carrying a packet of papers.  The men are smiling and seem confident.

I had seen this image many times before.  In fact, we have a print of this photograph in the SHC’s collection of J. Kenneth Lee Papers.  From our description of the photograph in the finding aid for the Lee Papers and from the other images that accompanied it in the collection, I knew that the photograph depicted the historic moment, on the morning of June 11, 1951, when Harvey Beech and J. Kenneth Lee entered South Building on UNC’s campus to complete their registration in the UNC School of Law, thereby becoming the first ever African American students to enroll at the University.

What I didn’t know, until this morning, was that this photograph was taken by Alexander M. Rivera Jr.  Thanks to a news release from the NC Department of Cultural Resources regarding the mounting of an exhibit featuring Rivera’s work at the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum in Sedalia, N.C., I now know the correct attribution for this image.

Alex Rivera was a nationally renowned and prominent photojournalist.  He also established the public relations office at North Carolina Central University, and served as the office’s first director.

Beech and Lee were both students at Central’s Law School who, through a lawsuit supported by the NAACP, were able to argue that their educational opportunities at Central were not equal to those that they would receive at Carolina.

So, it would follow that Rivera would have been present to document this moment as two of N.C. Central’s top law students transferred from Central to enroll as the first African American students at Carolina.

Last October, Alex Rivera passed away in Durham, N.C. at the age of 95.  His legacy lives on in the historic photographs that he captured during his amazing life.  Now, you have another chance to view some of these photographs. The exhibit, “Bearing Witness: Civil Rights Photographs of Alexander Rivera,” is on view the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum until August 15, 2009.

[One last note:  You can listen online to Harvey Beech speak about his experience at Carolina.]

Creator of the Month… The North Carolina Fund

[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.]

The North Carolina Fund, an independent, non-profit, charitable corporation, sought and dispensed funds to fight poverty in North Carolina, 1963-1968. Governor Terry Sanford and other North Carolinians convinced the Ford Foundation to grant $7 million initial funding for a statewide anti- poverty effort aimed at rural and urban communities. This money–plus additional funding from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation; the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation; the U.S. Dept. of Labor; U.S. Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare; U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development; and the Office of Economic Opportunity–enabled the Fund to support a broad program of education, community action, manpower development, research and planning, and other efforts to fight poverty.

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The Southern Historical Collection is proud to be the repository that preserves a giant collection (some 187,000 items) of the Funds records.  To read more about the North Carolina Fund and to learn about the collection of North Carolina Fund papers preserved in the Southern Historical Collection, please view the finding aid for the North Carolina Fund Records, 1962-1971.

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Finally, we thought we’d note that a great deal of attention has been paid lately to the work of the North Carolina Fund and its volunteers.  Rightfully so!  In 2008, filmmaker Rebecca Cerese created the documentary “Change Comes Knocking: The Story of the NC Fund” to tell the history and legacy of the Fund.  It’s a really great film.  In fact, we’ll be hosting an event featuring Rebecca Cerese in the fall – check back soon for full details.

We also understand that a book is soon to be published by UNC Press on the history of the Fund.  The publishing of this book has been an integral part of a new UNC Press digital publishing venture called “Publishing the Long Civil Rights Movement.”  You can read all about the new book and learn more about the project here.

The First Freedom Rides (2 of 2)

[A continuation from part 1 of a post about the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation]…

We include here a video that contains excerpts of audio from a 1974 oral history interview with Igal Roodenko, participant in the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, from the collection of the Southern Oral History Program (SOHP) at UNC Chapel Hill. The SOHP’s oral histories are archived and preserved at the Southern Historical Collection. Several hundred of these oral histories have been digitized and are available online. To listen to the full interview with Igal Roodenko, please visit:

http://docsouth.unc.edu/sohp/B-0010/menu.html

This video also contains a montage of images, primarily taken from the holdings of the Southern Historical Collection. The SHC contains scattered documentation about the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation and about the life and work of Reverend Charles M. Jones, including (but not limited to):

  • Southern Oral History Program (finding aid for collection #4007): Including these digitized interviews B-0010; A-0035; B-0041; and others not yet digitized.

We are very proud to be the repository for these important primary source materials documenting this often-forgotten episode of Southern history.  However, we can’t help but notice that there are many missing pieces in the archival record that might tell the rest of the story.  Could it be that there really is only one photograph of the 1947 freedom riders?  What about documentation of the cab drivers and others who opposed the riders?  We still have our work cut out for us.