“Rumor mills went into overtime [during World War II], fabricating tales of violence in public transportation, warning that blacks intended to ‘take over’ white women and that they were ‘gathering ice picks’ for a mass insurrection…..
“In May 1943 fears of a black uprising increased when the Charlotte News published a letter from Leander Derr, a black insurance salesman from Monroe, N.C. Upset by attempts to disenfranchise blacks, Derr posed the question: ‘What are blacks fighting for?’ In his letter he alleged that blacks were ‘fighting to make it safe for the white man to take away our right to vote — to discriminate against us, to exploit us, to “keep the nigger in is place”….As for me, to hell with the USA’….Due to public outrage and threats on his life, Monroe police apprehended Derr and put him in protective custody…. [They] determined he was not a threat and released him….”
— From “Home Front: North Carolina during World War II” by Julian M. Pleasants (2017)
I haven’t found further information on Derr, but perhaps his protest — and white Monroe’s reaction — could be seen as foreshadowing the violent case of Robert Williams.
“[In 1958 in Monroe, North Carolina] two Negro boys aged seven and nine were playing house with a group of white kids their age…. One of the white girls and one of the Negro boys kissed. The little girl told her parents. Joined by his neighbors, the girl’s father went looking for the boy and his family with a gun. Both boys were arrested and sent to reform school indefinitely. As head of the local chapter of the NAACP, Robert Williams… called in the national office. There followed a classic case of alienation between the Negro middle class and the Negro poor….
“Since the boys were deemed illegitimate, the national office had reservations about involvement in their case, feeling that the boys’ families just weren’t the type of Negroes to shine a national limelight on….
“But an English reporter got wind of the case and decided to visit the boys in reform school. She brought along their mothers, and the photo of their reunion was shown in newspapers around the world. Demonstrations in support of the boys were held in Paris, Rome, Vienna and Rotterdam. … Fifteen thousand signatures demanding their release were… sent to President Eisenhower and [Gov. Luther Hodges]. The boys were released on February 13, 1959.”
— From “Shadow of the Panther: Huey Newton and the Price of Black Power in America” by Hugh Pearson (1994)
On this day in 1921: A banquet at Monroe’s Hotel Joffre welcomes Marshal Ferdinand Foch, commander of Allied forces during World War I, in the only N.C. stop on his nationwide victory tour.
Foch was scheduled to dine in Charlotte, but the Southern Railway refused to pull his private railroad car from the Monroe yards of rival Seaboard Airline, forcing Gov. Cameron Morrison, Josephus Daniels and other dignitaries to travel to Monroe.