“In Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of ‘separate but equal.’ The case marks the start of the Jim Crow era in the South. In the decades that followed, African-Americans would not fare well…. A Chatham County study in the 1920s showed that the average annual income of 102 black tenants was $257; an average white tenant’s income was $626….
“North Carolina’s black population steadily dropped. Immediately after the Civil War, African-Americans constituted a third of the state’s population. By 1940, the number was down to 27.5 percent….
“In 1916, 87 percent of the state’s counties reported labor shortages. In 1920, Gov. Thomas Bickett addressed the General Assembly, proclaiming that the state would welcome back 25,000 African-Americans. ‘[T]he South is the best place in the world for a decent negro to make a decent living,’ he said. He went on to note, however, that the state was not interested in ‘negroes [who] have become tainted or intoxicated with dreams of social equality or of political dominion … for in the South such things are forever impossible.’
“Five years later, Bickett’s successor, Gov. Angus W. McLean, told a crowd at the Negro State Fair: ‘There is no longer a real race problem in the South. It exists only in the minds of those, white and colored, who are seeking selfish advancement; who are trying to intimidate others, and have no better weapon than the cowardly appeal to racial prejudice and racial antipathy.’ ”
— From “Blood and ballots: African-Americans’ battle for the vote in WNC” by Thomas Calder in the Mountain Xpress (Oct. 6)