From the Archives: The NAACP Reviews Robert H. Bork

This post contains highlights of material from the Triangle Research Libraries Network’s CCC project, digitizing 40 archival collections related to the long civil rights movement from four area institutions. For more on this digitization project, click here.

Judge Bork's Views Regarding Racial Discrimination

Former Solicitor General and US Court of Appeals judge Robert H. Bork is remembered for his role in the Watergate scandal and his time serving as an advisor to Mitt Romney, but perhaps most vividly for the historic rejection of his nomination to the US Supreme Court. After President Reagan recommended Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987, the nomination was strongly opposed by a public campaign led by Democratic politicians like Edward Kennedy and organizations that included the NAACP, ACLU, and NOW.

Bork’s record as a strict constructionist who often disagreed with the racial and gender reforms of the 1960s and 1970s concerned many civil and women’s rights activists who feared that, as a Supreme Court Justice, Bork might work to overturn recent decisions on abortion and affirmative action. In August 1987, the NAACP released a report on “Judge Bork’s Views Regarding Racial Discrimination,” in which they detailed Bork’s record of opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and his criticism of previous voting rights and affirmative action-related decisions. A copy of the NAACP’s report can be found in the Helen Edmonds papers. In one section the report quotes an article Bork wrote in 1964 where he described the “dangers” implied by the 1964 Civil Rights Act that “enforc[es] associations between private individuals which would, if uniformly applied, destroy personal freedom over broad areas of life.” 1 Bork’s hostility to the Civil Rights Act is attributed by the NAACP to his belief “that it infringed on the freedom of whites to discriminate.” 2 The report also highlighted Bork’s disapproval of laws protecting minorities against housing discrimination and poll taxes, as well as his support of Nixon’s anti-busing legislation, which hoped to limit the use of busing to desegregate public school systems across the South.

It was documents like this NAACP report that swayed opinion against Bork in 1987. After his nomination was rejected, Bork left the Court of Appeals and spent the rest of his life as a scholar, legal advisor, and best-selling author. Despite his controversial career, Bork was an extremely influential figure who inspired a generation of conservative lawyers and politicians. Judge Bork passed away in December 2012.

1. “Judge Bork’s Views Regarding Racial Discrimination.” Helen G. Edmonds Papers. Folder 100, Scan 1.

2. “Judge Bork’s Views Regarding Racial Discrimination.” Helen G. Edmonds Papers. Folder 100, Scan 15.

From the Archives: North Carolina Workers Strike in Gastonia

This post contains highlights of material from the Triangle Research Libraries Network’s CCC project, digitizing 40 archival collections related to the long civil rights movement from four area institutions. For more on this digitization project, click here.

Photo of an eviction following the Gastonia strike, Guy Benton Johnson Papers, Folder 1294, Item 8

84 years ago in April of 1929, textile workers at the Loray Mill in Gastonia, North Carolina, initiated a historic strike. The strike lasted for months and drew national attention, becoming a representation of the larger ongoing battle between Communist-led labor unions and factory bosses. The Gastonia strikers demanded union recognition, a 40-hour work week, and a minimum $20 weekly wage, hoping to improve the grueling hours, low wages, and poor working conditions that workers at that time were forced to endure. In response, mill owners evicted the families of strikers living in mill-owned houses, leaving hundreds homeless.1 The National Guard was called in to keep the peace, but in June of 1929, union headquarters and the homes of strikers were attacked at night during a police raid, and when laborers fought back to defend themselves, the chief of police was killed.

Letter from the International Labor Defense, Guy Benton Johnson Papers, Folder 1294, Item 4

Seven labor union leaders, including Fred Beal of the National Textile Workers Union (NTWU), were arrested and sentenced to terms of up to 20 years in prison. In response to the Gastonia case, the International Labor Defense wrote a passionate letter to rally support for the Gastonia prisoners and other workers facing charges that included sedition, inciting to riot, conspiracy, criminal syndicalism, illegal entry, and even murder. The International Labor Defense felt strongly that labor organizers and strike leaders were being targeted as part of a “terror wave” constructed by factory bosses who “intend in this way to stop the workers from organizing and fighting against misery and starvation.”2

A key figure in the Gastonia strike was Ella May Wiggins, a textile mill worker and ardent unionist who testified regarding inhumane labor practices in the South.[3] Wiggins’ involvement in the workers’ rights campaign is also notable for her support of integrated unions, and through her influence, the local NTWU branch expanded to admit black workers to its ranks.3 As the Gastonia strike dragged on into September of 1929, Wiggins was on her way to a union meeting with fellow strikers when she was shot and killed by a mob outside of Gastonia. Though five men were initially arrested for her murder, all were quickly acquitted; her fellow unionists refused to forget Wiggins’ sacrifice, and through her death she became a figurehead for the labor reform movement.

Despite the publicity created by pro-union organizations and the many who sympathized with the Gastonia strikers, the Communist ties of the National Textile Workers Union made some wary of unionization, and ultimately the violence in Gastonia set back union organization efforts and left strong anti-union sentiments in North Carolina which persisted for many years. In the Guy Benton Johnson Papers you can find more information relating to the Gastonia mill strike, and examples of the material circulated by pro-union groups like the International Labor Defense to publicize and gain support for the labor reform movement.

1. Guy Benton Johnson Papers, Folder 1294: Labor, Scan 9.

2. Guy Benton Johnson Papers, Folder 1294: Labor, Scan 4.

3. “Ella May Wiggins, Labor Activist,” by Beth Crist. North Carolina Museum of History.

CCC Progress Update: Helen Grey Edmonds Papers completed

Image of Dr. Helen Edmonds

Image of Dr. Helen Edmonds from the NCCU Faculty and Staff Photograph Records, Image Folder 80, Scan 17

This post contains highlights of material from the Triangle Research Libraries Network’s CCC project, digitizing 40 archival collections related to the long civil rights movement from four area institutions. For more on this digitization project, click here.

TRLN’s Content, Context, and Capacity project has completed digitization of the Helen G. Edmonds Papers, and all digitized content is now available through the collection’s online finding aid. Dr. Helen G. Edmonds is remembered as a noted historian, educator, and civil rights activist who achieved a number of “firsts” during her lifetime, including being the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. at Ohio State University and the first African American woman in the US to become a graduate school dean.1

Edmonds spent the majority of her career at North Carolina Central University in faculty and administrative positions, and she was also heavily involved with local, national, and international organizations including Links, Inc., the National Coalition of Black Women, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the United Nations (where she served as an alternate delegate), and the United Negro College Fund. Throughout her life, she worked tirelessly as an advocate for blacks and women, a mentor to students and youth, and an activist for race relations in North Carolina. In the early 1970s, the Durham Herald praised her by saying, “The nation needs people of Dr. Edmonds’ sound judgment and keen analytical powers in advisory, administrative, and policy-making posts.”2 And in 1982 she was honored by Charles Markham, Mayor of Durham, for her outstanding contributions to the community.

The Helen Edmonds Papers include correspondence with civil rights lawyer Julius Chambers and NC Governor James E. Holshouser, speeches delivered by Edmonds across the country, as well as newspaper clippings, programs, research and lecture notes, reports, and educational materials, which document the incredibly active life of this remarkable woman.

1. Helen G. Edmonds Papers Finding Aid: Biographical Information.,Helen_G.html#d1e316

2. Helen G. Edmonds Papers, Folder 365: Harry Walker, Inc., 1971-1972. Item 7.

LCRM in the News: Weekly Round-Up

We are adding a new regular feature: a round-up of recent news stories that touch on the theme of the LCRM blog. We hope that this will be useful to our readers.


New Enhanced E-book from UNC Press: Cooking in Other Women’s Kitchens

Cooking in Other Women's Kitchens

Cover of Cooking in Other Women's Kitchens

The UNC Press is happy to announce the publication of a special enhanced e-book version of Cooking in Other Women’s Kitchens: Domestic Workers in the South, 1865-1960, by Rebecca Sharpless. Produced with the cooperation of libraries and archives, the enhanced e-book features twenty letters, photographs, first-person narratives, and other documents, each embedded in the text where it will be most meaningful.

First published in 2010, this book tells the story of African American women who left the plantation economy behind to enter domestic service in southern cities and towns. These women fed generations of white families and, in the process, profoundly shaped southern foodways and culture. Rebecca Sharpless argues that, in the face of discrimination, long workdays, and low wages, African American cooks worked to assert measures of control over their own lives. As employment opportunities expanded in the twentieth century, most African American women chose to leave cooking for more lucrative and less oppressive manufacturing, clerical, or professional positions.

“The sources on African American cooks are the reward for persistent curiosity,” Sharpless said. “This e-book provides a glimpse into the riches that are to be had if one but looks. The digital format provides the reader with a taste of the raw materials of which the historical narrative is assembled.”

Browsable and searchable from anywhere in the text, the enhancements include twenty letters, photographs, first-person narratives, and other documents, as well as additional commentary written by the author, each embedded in the text where it will be most meaningful. Featuring close to 100 pages of new material, the enhanced e-book offers readers an intimate view into the lives of domestic workers, while also illuminating the journey a historian takes in uncovering these stories.

The enhanced e-book is available from the Barnes & Noble Nook Color and Nook Tablet, Amazon’s Kindle app for iPhone and iPad, and Google Play for desktop and laptop computers.

The enhanced e-book is published under the aegis of the Publishing the Long Civil Rights Movement project, which is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The project’s first enhanced e-book was Freedom’s Teacher: The Life of Septima Clark by Katherine Mellen Charron, and the project’s second enhanced e-book was Blowout!: Sal Castro and the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice, by Mario García and Sal Castro.

From the Archives: “The Participation of Negroes in Southern Life,” a Sociological Study from the 1930s

This post contains highlights of material from the Triangle Research Libraries Network’s CCC project, digitizing 40 archival collections related to the long civil rights movement from four area institutions. For more on this digitization project, click here.

 Folder 1312: Survey on Discrimination (1938?), Location Unknown: Scan 5

Survey on Discrimination, circa 1930s. Guy B. Johnson Papers, Folder 1312, Scan 5

A former Kenan professor of Anthropology and Sociology at UNC, Chapel Hill, Dr. Guy B. Johnson was a researcher and scholar with strong interests in African American culture and society. Dr. Johnson spent much of his career studying race relations in the American South, and often collaborated with other well known academics, such as Howard Odum and Guion G. Johnson.1 A particularly fascinating study conducted by Johnson during the 1930s distributed questionnaires to African Americans seeking their perspectives on stereotypes, racism, discrimination, and the treatment of Blacks in the South. Hundreds of handwritten responses were collected and contributed to a larger study examining “the Participation of Negroes in Southern Life.” The Guy B. Johnson collection contains hundreds of responses that this survey received. Answers often contain emotional stories of individuals being mistreated, disrespected, and misunderstood, and include details that are arresting and often appalling.

One powerful account from the collection is a narrative written by 20-year-old Onah Belle Hawkins, a junior in college from southern Georgia. As she responded to the questions of the survey, Hawkins described her frustration with the lack of opportunities for blacks in higher education and the daily reminders of racial discrimination present in shops, movie theaters, and restaurants wherever she went. She wrote about segregated trolley cars and how she was always led to the back of the store when trying on shoes, and even how a white debt collector came to her family’s house armed with a revolver and threatened her and her mother. Her candid replies fill the space provided and even continue onto the back of the questionnaire.2

In the 1930s, Dr. Johnson and his colleagues hoped that the information gathered through this study would help “to open the minds of white people of the South.”3 The wealth of information contained within the survey responses can still present a fascinating and revealing resource for researchers today. Survey responses can be found in Subseries 5.8.3, Folders 1311 through 1320 of the Guy B. Johnson Papers.

1. Guy Benton Johnson Papers Finding Aid, Biographical Information
2. Folder 1312: Survey on Discrimination (1938?), Location Unknown: Scan 9
3. Folder 1311: Survey on Discrimination (1938?), Location Unknown: Scan 1

From the Archives: Historic Library Desegregation

This post contains highlights of material from the Triangle Research Libraries Network’s CCC project, digitizing 40 archival collections related to the long civil rights movement from four area institutions. For more on this digitization project, click here.

News clipping announcing desegregation of Charlottesville public librarys

Newsclipping, North Carolina Commission on Interracial Cooperation Records, Folder 71, Scan 2

In the South, many public library facilities were not desegregated until the 1960s; however, a newsclipping in the North Carolina Commission on Interracial Cooperation Records briefly describes the “historic” decision made in Charlottesville, Virginia, to merge the main library system with the city’s “colored branch” and open Charlottesville’s downtown library to African Americans in 1948.1This event followed a similar desegregation of the public library system in Richmond, Virginia, in 1947.

Before this integration, Charlottesville had maintained separate library services for blacks and whites for 14 years, though the black library had never had a building of its own. Jefferson School was built in 1926 to serve as a high school for blacks in the community; after its completion, Jefferson High School became one of only ten African American high schools in the state of Virginia.2 Beginning in 1934, Jefferson School also housed Charlottesville city’s “Library for Colored Citizens,” an institution dedicated to providing educational resources to the black community at a time when blacks did not have access to the city’s primary library collections, due to the city’s mandate for strictly segregated library facilities.3 This school-library combination was fairly common in African American communities during the era of de jure segregation.4

All this changed in 1948 when the African American library joined the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library system. The “Colored Branch Library at Jefferson School,” as it had been know, was officially closed, and Charlottesville’s main downtown library was opened to blacks for the first time.5 Across the South, once begun, the desegregation of libraries tended to happen more quickly than other public institutions, but public library segregation was not brought to an end without its share of sit-ins and protests. However, on the whole, Southern cities seemed more open to integrating libraries than other public facilities such as buses, swimming pools, and schools. Gradually additional Southern localities began to follow the example set by early adopters, so that in 1953, more than a year before the Brown v. Board decision, 59 Southern cities and counties permitted “full use” of the main public library to African Americans. By 1963 this number had grown to 271.4

The headline “Charlottesville Drops Library Segregation” which appeared in 1948 was a sign of greater progress to come, and this clipping provides us with a brief glimpse into the fascinating history of public library desegregation.

1. “Charlottesville Drops Library Segregation,” Norfolk Journal and Guide


3. National Register of Historic Places: Jefferson School and Carver Recreation Center

4. Fultz, Michael. “Black Public Libraries in the South in the Era of De Jure Segregation.” Libraries & the Cultural Record, 42(3), Summer 2006.

5. Jefferson-Madison Regional Library

From the Archives: Burford’s Success Story–the Black Studies Department at Duke

This post contains highlights of material from the Triangle Research Libraries Network’s CCC project, digitizing 40 archival collections related to the long civil rights movement from four area institutions. For more on this digitization project, click here.

In 1972, Walter Burford, the director of Duke’s Black Studies Department, referred to Duke’s program as “the most progressive in the South.” 1 Though at the time there was still much progress to be made towards the department’s permanent establishment, its presence was seen as a huge benefit for students on campus and the wider Durham community. In Burford’s eyes, Black Studies was a crucial element of a modern education, and he was “convinced that no one can receive a complete education without exposure to the experience and concerns of black people.” 1

After its founding in 1970, the Black Studies department sponsored courses, symposia, and lectures to give the African American experience a stronger voice in Duke’s academic community. In addition to high participation from the school’s African American students, courses offered by the department also saw interest from many white students; in a 1972 article written for Duke’s student newspaper, The Chronicle, Burford mentions religion and pre-medicine majors in particular “who see the relation of black studies to their own fields.” 1

While the creation of the Black Studies Department was a huge achievement for Duke, of the designation “most progressive in the South,” Burford acknowledged that “given the history of white, Southern institutions, I don’t know how much that is saying.” 1 Burford especially hoped to be able to bring more black faculty to Duke so that course offerings in the department could be expanded, but at the time continued funding was a major concern. Initial development for the department was sponsored by a $100,000 two-year grant from the Ford Foundation. In the third year, Duke University took responsibility for supplying the program’s funding, though annual funds were reduced from $50,000 to $41,000. To continue to meet the needs of the young department and its students, Burford strongly believed that the program would need space and money to grow.

Burford’s thoughts on Duke’s Black Studies Department can be found in this 1972 article from The Chronicle, digitized through the CCC grant as part of the Department of African and African American Studies records.



From the Archives: Images for Women’s History Month

This post contains highlights of material from the Triangle Research Libraries Network’s CCC project, digitizing 40 archival collections related to the long civil rights movement from four area institutions. For more on this digitization project, click here.

As we conclude Black History Month and begin a month dedicated to the appreciation of women’s history, we highlight two noteworthy photographs from the Jessie Daniel Ames Papers.

Negro Women attending Interracial Conference at Tuskegee, 1938. Image folder p0375, item 1

Negro Women attending an Interracial Conference at Tuskegee Institute, 1938. JD Ames Papers, Image folder p0375, item 1

The first image features an assembly of celebrated African American women, including Mary McLeod Bethune, a civil rights activist and educator who founded Bethune-Cookman University; Bethune was a close friend of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt for many years and facilitated the formation of the “Black Cabinet,” a group of prominent African American leaders who advised FDR regarding concerns of the black community. Second from the right is Nannie Burroughs, remembered for helping to establish the National Association of Colored Women and for her  work in the National League of Republican Colored Women. In 1940, she visited university president James E. Shepard at North Carolina Central University. Standing next to Burroughs is Charlotte Hawkins Brown, a well-known North Carolina educator.

In 1938, a joint meeting of two women’s groups was held at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Though they functioned as separate organizations, the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching (ASWPL) and the African American women members of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation (CIC) shared a common mission: the battle against racial discrimination and violence in the South.

During the Civil Rights Era, collaboration between organizations was a common method of sharing resources, ideas, and enthusiasm. An initiative from a 1934 CIC staff meeting showed both the importance of such collaboration and the value placed on women activists when it stated that “One of the most important pieces of work to be developed is securing closer cooperation between Women’s Organizations and the Commission on Interracial Cooperation.”1

Attendees of the joint meeting of the ASWPL & African American members of the CIC at Tuskegee Institute, 1938. Image folder p0374, item 1

Attendees of the joint meeting of the ASWPL & African American members of the CIC at Tuskegee Institute, 1938. JD Ames Papers, Image folder p0374, item 1

Jessie Daniel Ames, who served as the director of the CIC’s Women’s Committee in 1929 before founding ASWPL in 1930,2 is pictured in the front row of the second image, second from the right. In the beginning, ASWPL constituted a small group of women; Ames’ initial membership goal was to have at least one representative from every Southern state. Many of these women were pastors’ wives and other well-connected upper and middle class ladies who could help in the recruitment of local and state officials to the anti-lynching cause. Over time, this small association grew to become one of the most effective social programs in the US, with a total of over two million members.3

Through the mission of community education, the efforts of these Southern women had tremendous effects. Between 1922 and 1938, the number of lynchings in the South decreased by fifty percent. Many lynchings  were prevented by sheriffs and community leaders whose vocal support had been enlisted by ASWPL.3

At the time, a common justification of lynching was that the practice existed primarily as a necessary response to sexual attacks against white women. ASWPL was a strong opponent of this concept of lynching, and through the course of their research, ASWPL discovered that almost 80% of lynchings occurred over interracial conflicts unrelated to charges of sexual assault on white women.4 ASWPL was “profoundly convinced that lynching is not a defense of womanhood or of anything else, but rather a menace to private and public safety . . . [In addition] lynching tends inevitably to destroy all respect for law and order. It represents the complete breakdown of government and the triumph of anarchy.”5  With this message, ASWPL played a key role in effecting the decline of lynchings in the US. And in the process, the organization became extremely influential in changing traditional perceptions of gender in the South.


1. Excerpts from the Staff Meeting, 1934. Commission on Interracial Cooperation, 1920-1963.

2. Wormser, Richard. Jim Crow Stories: Jessie Daniel Ames. The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow. Educational Broadcasting Corporation (2002).

3. Nordyke, Lewis T., “Ladies and Lynchings,” Survey Graphic, 28 (November 1939).

4. Barnes, R.L., Jessie Daniel Ames and the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, 1930-1942. US History Scene, October 2011.

5. Resolutions, Conference of Southern White Women, Atlanta, GA. November 1, 1930.

From the Archives: What’s In a Name?

Over time “Negro,” “colored,” “black,” “Afro-American,” and “African American” have all been used as expressions of identity for black Americans. Two decades after the shift from “Negro” to “black” in the 1960s, at a news conference in 1988, Jesse Jackson launched a campaign to encourage the use of the term “African American” as a way to emphasize “a sense of ethnic identity” among black Americans.1 Over the next few years, prominent civil rights leaders and politicians would join Jackson in promoting this terminology change, and the use of “African American” would be adopted by major newspapers and public agencies around the country. While many Americans voiced their support for the term, Jackson’s campaign was not received with enthusiasm by all.

The Charlotte Observer published an article in 1989 in which prominent Charlotte citizens discussed their reaction to this new movement and their personal feelings for some of the racial and ethnic terms used throughout their lifetimes. The article contains responses from local businessmen, pastors, and public figures that reflect the divided nature of opinions on this issue. Rev. Clifford Jones Sr. appreciated the sense of heritage implied by “African American,” while 82-year-old Maggie Nicholson was uncertain of the new word; she still felt most comfortable with the term she had grown up with: “colored.” Artist Willie Stratford also discusses growing up as a “colored” person, because “that’s all I knew,” until traditions were changed by ground-breaking moments such as James Brown’s singing of “I’m black and I’m proud.”2

While some of those weighing in on the issue felt quite strongly about one term or another, other responses reflected the expectation that though African American might evolve into the principal or preferred reference, “black” would also continue to be considered acceptable.3 For example, high school principal Ed Sadler said he used the two terms interchangeably. Others took a more detached view from the current debate; Rev. Leon Riddick believed strongly that “whatever anyone calls me doesn’t subtract or add to what I am . . . I would rather be called an American without any connotation to color. I don’t like all these designations.”4

For more on the debate, this article from the Charlotte Observer can be found in the Office for Equal Opportunity and Equity Records.

1. Martin, Ben. “From Negro to Black to African American: The Power of Names and Naming.” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 106, No. 1 (Spring, 1991), pp. 83-107.
2. Charlotte Observer, The Debate Over Name: “Black” or “African American”
3. Wilkerson, Isabel. “’African American’ Favored By Many of America’s Blacks.” New York Times, January 31, 1989.
4. Charlotte Observer, The Debate Over Name: “Black” or “African American”