What black people wanted to be called in 1906

“The New York Tribune [in 1906] made a canvass of a great many prominent Negroes and white persons to ascertain what they thought the Negro should be called…. An average of eleven Negroes out of twenty desired to be spoken of as Negroes. The other nine spurned the word as ‘insulting,’ ‘contemptuous,’ ‘degrading,’ ‘vulgar.’ Two argued for ‘Afro-American,’ two for ‘Negro-American,’ one for ‘black man,’ and one was indifferent so long as he was not called ‘Nigger’….

“E .A. Johnson, Professor of Law in Shaw University, North Carolina, said, ‘The term “Afro-American” is suggestive of an attempt to disclaim as far as possible our Negro descent, and casts a slur upon it. It fosters the idea of the inferiority of the race, which is an incorrect notion to instill into the Negro youth, whom we are trying to imbue with self-esteem and self-respect.’ ”

— From “Race Distinctions in American Law” by Gilbert Thomas Stephenson (1910) 

Edward Austin Johnson, who left North Carolina for New York a year later, had quite a productive career.


Moonshine a force for interracial cooperation

“By drawing those at the lower end of the economic scale into an illicit enterprise, bootlegging and moonshining in the Jim Crow South had the unintended effect of blurring lines of segregation….

“The African-American newspaper the Pittsburgh Courier reported with dry humor one North Carolina reference: ‘If white and Negro preachers understood each other and worked together as well as white and Negro bootleggers, a large part of our interracial troubles would come to a speedy end.’ ”

 — From The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American Stateby Lisa McGirr (2015)


‘Is the South the Best Home for the Negro?’

“Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore [in “Gender and Jim Crow”] recounts a debate on a summer night in 1901 in Charlotte, North Carolina, between two well-educated young women, Addie Sagers and Laura Arnold, on the topic ‘Is the South the Best Home for the Negro?’

“Sagers argued against going North, where, she said, the only jobs open to blacks were ‘bell boy, waiter, cook or house maid,’ and where Northern unions excluded blacks from their ranks. Arnold, her debate opponent, railed against the violence, segregation and disenfranchisement of blacks in the South. She agreed that ‘the unknown was frightening,’ but added, ‘if the Puritans could cross the oceans in small boats, surely North Carolina’s African-Americans could board northbound trains.’

“Gilmore notes that Arnold’s ‘received more points than any other speech that night.’ Two weeks later, Arnold ‘took her own advice and moved to Washington, D.C.’ ”

— From “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson (2010)


‘North Carolina, 1950’ packed a punch for the ages

“As the civil rights movement heated up in the ’60s and ’70s, [the work of Magnum photographers] became increasingly pointed and political, but they were also often overshadowed by the swelling media coverage of spectacular and typically violent scenes. It was easier to distill the emblematic structures of Jim Crow during the more quiescent 1950s, which Elliott Erwitt did particularly well in a defining pair of drinking-fountain photographs whose symbolic function is reflected in part by their shared and nondescriptive caption: ‘North Carolina, 1950.’

“Reproduced widely, the second image [which adds a black man drinking from the “Colored” fountain] has become the most frequently demanded photograph in Magnum’s extensive civil rights archive. It has also become, I would argue, the iconic Jim Crow photograph….”

— From “Signs of the Times: The Visual Politics of Jim Crow” by Elizabeth Abel (2010)

N.C. struggles to stem exodus of blacks

“Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina have adopted similar policies to combat the migration of their Negro laborers to northern industrial centers.

“At Greensboro, N. C., a Negro named Charles Hampton was fined $500 for ‘secretly enticing’ 10 Negro laborers to take the train for Harrisburg, Pa.”

— From Time magazine, June 4, 1923

” ‘Go north, Piccaninny, go north,’ is the advice which the breezes have been whispering to the Negroes of the South. The Negroes have responded with remarkable willingness.

“[The North’s higher wages seem more important than its better schools and living conditions]. For example, North Carolina now spends more than three times as much per year for Negro education as it spent on all education in 1900, yet 30,000 Negroes have left the state since last April.”

— From Time magazine, Aug. 13, 1923

Hot-button image, 1900: eyeglasses on blacks

“North Carolina whites [circa 1900] often used the image of African-Americans wearing eyeglasses to play on the white supremacist envy of their audiences. Since many poor whites could not afford glasses and could not read or write so had no need for them, the image elicited a wide range of resentments.”

— From “Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920” by Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore (1996)

Jim Crow trains put black passengers at risk

On this day in 1911: In Hamlet a freight train and a passenger train collide head-on, killing seven passengers and injuring 25. The passenger train had been loaded with Durham Sunday school members on an excursion to Charlotte.

“Jim Crow service, using old wooden cars sandwiched between the newer steel ones, [subjected] those in the wooden cars to extreme danger…. ” Jean Bradley Anderson writes in “Durham County.” “In the collision the wooden cars had splintered and compacted like accordions.”

A Charlotte Observer correspondent reported from the scene that “An old railroad man expressed the opinion… that the frail construction of the cars had something to do with the great damage.”

Black leaders would later call for railroad regulations to require either all wood or all steel cars on each train.


Poor whites disenfranchised along with blacks

“The [1890s] laws that took the vote away from blacks — poll taxes, literacy tests, property qualifications — also often ensured that poor whites would not vote….

“The Charlotte Observer saw disenfranchisement as ‘the struggle of the white people of North Carolina to rid themselves of the dangers of the rule of negroes and the lower class of whites.’ ”

– From “A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present” (1980) by Howard Zinn

Zinn, 87, died Wednesday in Auburndale, Mass. “A People’s History,” a pioneering work of revisionism, has sold nearly 2 million copies.