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Posts Tagged ‘Stories from North Carolina’s Black History’

A desegregated bus after the Swann decision. Image from The Economist

A desegregated bus after the Swann decision. Image from The Economist

All this month we’re bringing you stories from North Carolina’s black history. Check back here each week day for a new tidbit from our state’s African American’s past.

In 1965, attorney Julius L. Chambers filed suit on behalf of ten pairs of African American parents. The suit—Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education –contended that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education’s assignment plan did not sufficiently eliminate the inequalities of the formerly segregated system.

Though the board tried to redo the assignment plan and the district appeared desegregated, the plaintiffs argued decades of discrimination could only be undone through extensive busing. Federal district court judge James B. McMillan agreed.

Disagreements between the board and McMillan on the specifics of the plan landed the case in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which reaffirmed McMillian’s decision with qualifications.

The school board and plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which unanimously reaffirmed the ruling in April 1971. The case remained unresolved until July 1975, when McMillan was satisfied that the burden of busing was equally shared between blacks and whites.

Though initially quite divisive in the community, many Mecklenburg residents eventually began to take pride in their new schools, and some observers have linked the city’s growth and prosperity in the 1980s to the school board’s continued commitment to full integration.

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Image courtesy of Ricky Stilely Photography.

Image courtesy of Ricky Stillely Photography.

All this month we’re bringing you stories from North Carolina’s black history. Check back here each week day for a new tidbit from our state’s African American’s past.

In the summer of 1978, a trucking company began to discreetly dump liquid contaminated with PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) along 240 miles of roads in 14 rural North Carolina counties at night. The state quickly responded by constructing a landfill to bury the toxic waste on land purchased from a Warren County farmer.

What seemed to be an expeditious response to a problem soon became more complicated. Most people in the area drew drinking water from wells and the water table was only 10 feet below the surface. Warren County also had the highest percentage of African American residents in the state and was one of the poorest.

Local civil rights activists and residents soon joined together with national groups like the NAACP and United Church of Christ to protest the landfill. The protesters believed that the landfill would undermine local economic development and heath, and that the community lacked the power to prevent hazardous waste facilities from being placed in their neighborhoods.

The demonstrations soon gained national attention and the landfill site was eventually detoxified. The fight is now widely credited as the genesis of the environmental justice movement in America and signaled a change in the way the public thinks about environmental issues.

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Anna J. Cooper

All this month we’re bringing you stories from North Carolina’s black history. Check back here each week day for a new tidbit from our state’s African American’s past.

Educator, writer, activist and feminist Anna Julia Haywood Cooper, was born about 1858 in Raleigh. Her mother was a slave and her father was her mother’s master, and she enrolled at St. Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute at the age of 10.

Cooper taught at the college level for three years before being awarded a M.A. in mathematics from Oberlin College and moving to Washington, D.C. to teach at prestigious high schools. There she honed her writing and oratory skills as an advocate for gender and racial equality and progress.

Considered the first book-length feminist analysis of the condition of African Americans, Cooper’s 1892 A Voice from the South was a collection of essays that addressed a range of topics including education, segregation, woman suffrage, poverty and the portrayal of African-Americans in literature. Gaining international acclaim for her writings and speeches, Cooper always used her renown to enhance advocacy for social change.

Through her publications, lectures, work in education and community activism, Cooper is credited not with originating, but advancing and providing firm foundation for the black feminist movement. She was featured on a postal stamp in 2009.

Read more about Cooper’s life in Women of Distinction available in the digital collections of the State Archives and State Library.

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SNCC

All this month we’re bringing you stories from North Carolina’s black history. Check back here each week day for a new tidbit from our state’s African American’s past.

On Easter weekend 1960, about 150 student leaders from ten states met at Shaw University in Raleigh for a conference on nonviolent resistance to segregation in the South. The meeting took place just two months after the Woolworth sit-ins in Greensboro had launched a nationwide protest effort.

At the urging of its interim executive director, Ella Baker, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) hosted the conference to unite student activists who had been newly energized by the sit-in movement. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) grew out of those efforts. Though initiated by the SCLC, SNCC remained student-directed and student-driven at Baker’s insistence.

Following a 1961 U.S. Supreme Court decision ending segregation in the transportation industry, SNCC members confronted violent opposition from locals while working as Freedom Riders on buses that carried integrated groups through the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. SNCC activists also played a key role in the 1963 March on Washington and constituted the “shock troops” and frontline leaders during the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964.

Duke scholar John Hope Franklin called them “probably the most courageous and the most selfless” workers of the civil rights movement. 

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Faculty at the Leonard Medical School, ca. 1902. Image from the North Carolina Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill

Faculty at the Leonard Medical School, ca. 1902. Image from the North Carolina Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill

All this month we’re bringing you stories from North Carolina’s black history. Check back here each week day for a new tidbit from our state’s African American’s past.

Often referred to as the oldest historically black institution of higher learning in the South, Shaw University was founded by Henry M. Tupper, a white minister and Union Army veteran from Massachusetts in 1865.

Etsy Hall at Shaw University ca. 1873. Image from the State Archives

Etsy Hall at Shaw University ca. 1873. Image from the State Archives

Begun as a theological class which met just north of the Capitol grounds, the school became the Shaw Collegiate Institute in 1870 after the receipt of a major gift. In 1875 the General Assembly granted a formal charter to the university.

From 1882 to 1918 Shaw operated Leonard Medical School, which, during that period, educated more than 400 African American physicians. Four other medical schools for African-Americans predated it, but Leonard was the first such school in the United States to offer a four-year graded curriculum of the sort used today. The four-year course of study was made the standard in 1893, eleven years after Leonard had instituted it.

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John Chavis Marker

All this month we’re bringing you stories from North Carolina’s black history. Check back here each week day for a new tidbit from our state’s African American’s past.

A prominent free black preacher and educator in and around the Raleigh area from 1810 onwards, John Chavis was raised in Virginia and enlisted in the Continental Line there in 1778.  He had an extensive education for the time, likely the best of any African American in North Carolina.

After doing mission work throughout the Southeast for the Presbyterians Church, Chavis turned his attention to educating children of all races and from all different backgrounds. Many of his students were from notable families in North Carolina, including future Governor Charles Manly and the sons of Chief Justice Leonard Henderson.

Following Nat Turner’s Rebellion in 1832, free blacks across the South—including those in North Carolina –lost many of their rights, and Chavis lost his freedom to preach and to teach. In 1833 he published his only written work, a sermon entitled An Essay on Atonement. The work was successful and widely read, and helped to supplement his income during the final years of his life.

Chavis is considered by many historians to be the first free black to demonstrate to white slave-owners the abilities of blacks in formal education.

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An image of Keckley courtesy of the Documenting the American South Project at UNC-Chapel Hill

An image of Keckley courtesy of the Documenting the American South Project at UNC-Chapel Hill

All this month we’re bringing you stories from North Carolina’s black history. Check back here each week day for a new tidbit from our state’s African American’s past.

Born a slave in Virginia around 1820, Elizabeth Keckley came to North Carolina with her master’s son when he became the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Hillsborough in 1835. Having earned money as a seamstress, Keckley purchased her freedom and that of her son George in 1855.

In 1860, Keckley moved to Washington, D.C. where she established a dressmaking business, catering to the wives of politicians such as Stephen Douglas and Jefferson Davis. A client recommended her to Mary Todd Lincoln who hired her in March 1861. The two women developed a close friendship, and Keckley even assisted President Abraham Lincoln with his clothes and hair before public appearances. The friendship was highlighted in Stephen Spielberg’s recent film Lincoln.

In 1868, Keckley published her memoir, Behind the Scenes: Or 30 Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House, with appended personal correspondence from Mary Todd Lincoln. At the time Keckley reported that she wrote the book in order to help raise money for her friend, Mrs. Lincoln, and to help neutralize harsh criticism of the former First Lady. The authenticity of Behind the Scenes has never been questioned and has been extensively cited by Lincoln biographers.

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