This humble, well-used cardboard hand fan combines three key elements of black history in North Carolina:
— Dr. King.
— North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance, the state’s preeminent black business.
— The typically un-air-conditioned churches that accommodated not only worship services but also civil rights meetings.
“The only time I tried to directly interrogate my grandparents on race was in the early 1990s. Having learned about Greensboro’s importance in the civil rights movement from a class in college, I asked them what they remembered about the years of school desegregation and the Woolworth sit-ins. There followed a long pause, punctuated by the tick-tock of a half-dozen wind-up clocks….
“My people were fighting to preserve white supremacy [in the Patriots of North Carolina], but I never would have known about their efforts without digging through archives….”
— From “Hiding in plain sight” by David Neal at Scalawag (July 8, 2015)
“During the civil-rights era, when local administrators across the South resisted desegregation and suppressed protests, business élites in Dallas and Charlotte pushed for moderation; Dallas had desegregated its downtown businesses by 1961, and Charlotte began desegregating public accommodations the year before the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
“Those efforts, though, were driven by local businesses and were a response to protests. Today’s fight is driven by national companies, and they’re in the vanguard: there is no federal law protecting L.G.B.T. people from discrimination, but three-quarters of Fortune 500 firms have policies forbidding it….”
— From “Unlikely Alliances: When North Carolina’s legislators tried to limit L.G.B.T. rights, big business was their toughest opponent” by James Surowiecki in the New Yorker (April 25 issue)
On this day in 1958: The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., not yet 30 years old but already famous for having led the Montgomery bus boycott, pays his first visit to Greensboro.
The local NAACP has invited King, but only black Bennett College will provide him a hall. He addresses two overflow crowds — morning and night — at Pfeiffer Chapel. “We are breaking loose from the Egypt of segregation and moving into the promised land of integration . . . .” he says. “There are giants in the way, but it can be done.”
Five years later he will return to Greensboro for a ceremony honoring the students who ignited the sit-in movement at the Woolworth’s lunch counter.
On this day in 1934: The American Legion baseball team from Springfield, Mass., withdraws from a tournament in Gastonia because of local resistance to its lone black player.
Ernest “Bunny” Taliaferro was barred from the team’s hotel, and the Charlotte Observer reports that “those in charge of the tournament would not guarantee the safety of the Springfield nine when it went on the field in the face of heckling and manifestations of hostility by the onlookers.”
Scorned and threatened in Gastonia, Taliaferro and the rest of team would return home to a heroes’ welcome. In 2003 a monument bearing all their names will be erected at the Springfield ballpark. And there’s even a children’s book.
On this day in 1975: In a case that has become a national cause celebre, an evenly biracial Raleigh jury acquits black defendant Joan Little in the icepick stabbing slaying of white jailer Clarence Alligood.
Defense attorneys — including civil rights stalwarts William Kunstler and Morris Dees — argued that Alligood, 62, had attempted to sexually assault the 21-year-old Little, who was serving time in the Beaufort County Jail for breaking and entering. The prosecution contended that Alligood had been killed in an escape plot.
“Seven African-American students, all studying on a predominantly white college campus in 1969, took to the roof of a classroom building. They called for equal treatment. Instead, a call went out for the police….
“The decision to take over a Belmont Abbey campus building came amid unrest at home over the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement. The attempt to drive change led Belmont Abbey to dismiss the students 45 years ago and to leave the protest largely forgotten except in the minds of those for whom it was a seminal event in tumultuous times….”
— From “45 years ago, Abbey students issued a call for change” by Matthew Memrick in the Gaston Gazette (May 3)
h/t John Robinson for spotting this time capsule of a dramatic but obscure chapter in the career of community organizer Howard Fuller.