Tag Archive for 'north carolina'

Commemorating Faithful Slaves, Mammies, and Black Confederates, Pt. 2

By Angelina Ray Johnston and Robinson Wise

Confederate Monument at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia,

Confederate Monument at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia,

[This is the second of 4 installments of an essay that was originally published here.]

The “Faithful Slaves” monument in Mebane (see first installment of this essay) is just one example of the regional, even national, enthusiasm for commemorating “mammies” and “faithful slaves.” Perhaps the most striking manifestation of this impulse was a decades-long campaign to erect a monument to black “mammies” in Washington D. C. As early as 1904, members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) began campaigning for a memorial to “faithful slaves,” and Southern congressmen took up the cause, unsuccessfully seeking federal funding for a monument in 1907 and 1912.2 A milestone in the UDC’s campaign to commemorate both the Confederacy and “faithful slaves” was the erection of the Confederate Monument in Arlington National Cemetery in 1914. Sculpted by Moses Jacob Ezekiel, a Confederate veteran and prominent sculptor, the imposing monument includes thirty-two life-sized reliefs, including a frieze depicting a loyal black slave accompanying his Confederate master into battle and another that portrays a departing Confederate soldier bidding farewell to his children, who cluster around an “old Negro mammy.” According to Hilary A. Herbert, who wrote a history of the monument in 1914, the monument depicted “the kindly relations that existed all over the South between the master and the slave – a story that can not be too often repeated to generations in which “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” survives and is still manufacturing false ideas as to the South and slavery in the ‘fifties.’ The astonishing fidelity of the slaves everywhere during the war to the wives and children of those who were absent in the army was convincing proof of the kindly relations between master and slave in the old South.”3

Even after the erection of the Confederate Monument at Arlington, UDC activists remained committed to a national monument dedicated to “mammies.” The value of such a monument was clear to its supporters: one proponent explained that “a noble monument” to the memory of black “mammies” and to “their loyal conduct refutes the assertion that the master was cruel to his slave.”4 Passionately, the monument enthusiasts argued that it “would not only tell the traditions, romance, poetry, and picturesqueness of the South, but would speak the pathetic scenes enacted in many grand old Southern homesteads. No one who was rocked to sleep by the sweet lullaby of the faithful black ‘mammy,’ listened to her weird ghost stories, nursed at her breast, or played about her cabin door would ever be willing to have these tender memories die out. There is the side of sentiment, the side of gratitude, that those who have felt the touch can never give up, nor can they forget the debt due the faithful ‘ten per cent of slaves that remained with their masters after freedom.'”5

In February 1923, the Senate, prodded by the UDC and at the behest of Senator John Sharp Williams of Mississippi, passed a bill granting permission to the Washington D.C. chapter of the UDC to erect a monument to “faithful slave mammies.” In the House of Representatives, Charles M. Stedman of North Carolina, a Confederate veteran, introduced a virtually identical bill. Although the House bill languished while Congress was out of session, sculptors began submitting designs for the monument. Simultaneously, outraged blacks organized in opposition to the proposed monument, and the combination of this opposition and shifting legislative priorities subsequently prevented the passage of the House bill in support of the monument. Eventually the UDC and the monument’s supporters conceded defeat.6

1. For more on “Faithful Slave” monuments, see Kirk Savage, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 155-161.

2. Mrs. W. Carlton Adams, “Slave Monument Question.” Confederate Veteran 12 (November 1904): 525 (accessed June 28, 2013).

3. Herbert, Hilary A. History of the Arlington Confederate Monument [Washington, D.C., 1914], 77 (accessed June 28, 2013).

4. Wallace-Sanders, Kimberly. Southern Memory, Southern Monuments, and the Subversive Black Mammy. Emory University, June 12, 2009 (accessed June 28, 2013).

5. Confederate Veteran 13 (1905): 123 (accessed June 29, 2013)

6. Mills, Cynthia. “Commemorating the Color Line: the National Mammy Monument Controversy of the 1920s.” Monuments to the Lost Cause: Women, Art, and the Landscapes of Southern Memory. Ed. Cynthia Mills and Pamela H. Simpson (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 2003); McElya, Micki. Clinging to Mammy: the Faithful Slave in Twentieth-century America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007), 116-159; MarieJohnson, Joan. “‘YE GAVE THEM A STONE’: African American Women’s Clubs, the Frederick Douglass Home, and the Black Mammy Monument,” Journal of Women’s History 17 (Spring 2005): 62–86.

Commemorating Faithful Slaves, Mammies, and Black Confederates, Pt. 1

By Angelina Ray Johnston and Robinson Wise

Erected June 4, 1922, in Hawfield Presbyterian Church in Mebane, North Carolina

The “Faithful Slaves” memorial, erected June 4, 1922, in Hawfield Presbyterian Church in Mebane, North Carolina

[This is the first of 4 installments of an essay that was originally published here.]

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, white Southerners engaged in a frenzy of commemoration and monument building. In addition to honoring Confederate soldiers and the Lost Cause, they also sought to commemorate African American “mammies” and “faithful slaves.” Anxious to refute any suggestion that slavery had required the dehumanization of African Americans, white Southerners recalled their enslaved caretakers as willing “servants” who had been content, even grateful, for their lot in life. These commemorative gestures, which only hinted at the complex relationship that existed between slaveholders and slaves, served to legitimize white privilege and inform blacks of their “proper” place during the Jim Crow era. Simultaneously, some African Americans exploited the image of the “faithful slave” by pointedly reminding whites who railed against black criminality and fecklessness that blacks had been trustworthy in the past and, in fact, remained so. Even today, recent efforts to commemorate so-called “Black Confederates,” or slaves who allegedly fought on behalf of the Confederacy, demonstrate the continuing contests over acknowledging the historical complexities of American slavery.

One example of white commemoration of “faithful slaves” stands in the cemetery of the Hawfield Presbyterian Church in Mebane, North Carolina. Erected on June 4, 1922, the monument is a roughly-cut, rectangular stone with a bronze plaque. It, along with two other plaques, were donated in honor of the founders of the church, the former and present pastors of the church, as well as the “faithful slaves” who are buried in the church cemetery. The donors of the monument were members of the family of Stephen A.White, a businessman, prominent local politician, and an elder of the church.


This Biblical passage and the monument’s location are telling. The passage presumably was selected to explicitly compare the slaves’ servitude to devout Christians’ obedience to God, who will “give thee the crown of life.” The passage renders the condition of servitude in a manner that whites, who knew of slavery only from the vantage of slave masters, presumably found both acceptable and compelling. Simultaneously, it underscored that faithfulness to masters, as to God, was both a necessity and an obligation. The apparent intent of the inscription is to suggest that just as God gives life to his faithful followers, so too slave masters gave life to their loyal slaves. And while the plaque specifically commemorated former slaves who had been members of the Hawfields Presbyterian Church, no names of any of the “faithful slaves” were included on it. Consequently, the monument memorializes them in the abstract, and these nameless slaves are honored in the context of a segregated church and a segregated cemetery. The monument, in sum, is a memorial to the slaves’ condition vis a vis their white masters rather than to them as individuals.1

1. For more on “Faithful Slave” monuments, see Kirk Savage, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 155-161.

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.

From the Archives: Asa T. Spaulding’s Audience with JFK

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.

Photograph of JFK and Asa T. Spaulding, 1963. North Carolina Fund Records, Folder 319, Scan 9

In addition to serving from 1958 to 1968 as the president of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, known as the largest and longest operating African American-owned insurance business in the United States,1 Asa T. Spaulding was a prominent leader in the Durham community and volunteered for many local projects. He was involved with organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America, North Carolina Council of Churches, and Durham’s Bi-Racial Human Relations Committee, among others. 2Spaulding was invited to the White House in September of 1963, at a time when he was working with the Community Campaigns of America. The occasion was a speech given by President John F. Kennedy in support of the United Community Campaigns project, which worked to resolve issues relating to education, health, and other community concerns in cities across the US, many chapters of which today are incorporated through the United Way foundation.

Tribute to JFK by Asa T. Spaulding, 1963. North Carolina Fund Records, Folder 319, Scan 8

Spaulding was honored to be present and witness the event, and in this photograph he can be seen sitting to President Kennedy’s left. 3 The United Community Campaigns broadcast occurred on September 22, 1963, just two months before Kennedy’s assassination on November 22. The photograph later appeared in the 1963 Christmas edition of The Whetstone, a quarterly publication produced by North Carolina Mutual, along with a heartfelt tribute to President Kennedy written by Spaulding. In his essay, Spaulding wrote that the ideals epitomized in Kennedy’s life and death had sparked a torch that “will ever brighten a path for all wandering, freedom-loving peoples in search for a better way of life.”4 Praising Kennedy’s bravery and his actions in office, Spaulding expressed his hope that other men and women would continue the works that Kennedy began with the same level of courage and devotion. Spaulding wrote of Kennedy that perhaps “time may prove him to have been more triumphant in death than he could have ever been in life… What he lived for and died for will shine with greater luster in the years ahead.”4

1. http://www.ncmutuallife.com/newsite/pages/about.html
2. http://www.northcarolinahistory.org/encyclopedia/10/entry
3. http://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/04710/id/2265/rec/9
4. http://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/04710/id/2299/rec/8

From the Archives: Greensboro Demonstrates

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.

Newspaper Clipping, from the Durham Morning Herald, May 17, 1963. Floyd B. McKissick Papers, Folder 7013, Item ID: 04930_7013_0009

In May of 1963 the Greensboro downtown area was filled with protesters campaigning for an end to segregation in city businesses, and close to 240 students, many from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College (now University), were arrested in a single day on trespassing charges. The demonstrations were staged largely due to the unwillingness of four major Greensboro establishments, S&W Cafeteria, Mayfair Cafeteria, the Center Theater, and the Carolina Theater, to change their segregation policies despite both community protests and the urging of two Greensboro business groups.

These two groups, the Greensboro Merchants Association and the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce, responded to anti-segregation reports from the Mayor’s Committee on Human Relations by encouraging businesses throughout the city to cease all practices “which deny rights or services to any citizen.” Even after this plea, Boyd Morris, the owner of the Mayfair Cafeteria, one of the restaurants targeted by Greensboro protesters, remained firm in his resolution against integrating his business, pledging that he would not change company policy until “the US Supreme Court rules against ‘the rights of an individual to operate his business as he wishes.’”

You can read more about these turbulent times in a May 17, 1963, article from the Durham Morning Herald. This article was digitized as part of the TRLN CCC grant; find it here in the Floyd B. McKissick Papers.

On This Day: The Wilmington Race Riot

On November 10, 1898—114 years ago today—Wilmington, North Carolina, descended into racial and political violence that would leave many African Americans dead and the political and demographic landscape severely altered.

The riot occurred in the aftermath of the 1898 elections, when Fusionists and white supremacist Democrats faced off in a tense election. The Fusion coalition, made up of individuals from the Populist and Republican parties, had gained power in 1894, and sought to reverse disfranchisement practices commonly used against African Americans following the end of the Reconstruction era. Wilmington, at the time, was a majority-African American city, but white supremacists sought to suppress African American voting through violence, intimidation, and fraud.

They were successful; Democrats won control of Wilmington and most of the state. However, not satisfied merely with their victory, white supremacists formed a Committee of Twenty-Five and demanded that the Committee of Colored Citizens evict Alexander Manly, editor of the Wilmington Daily Record (an African-American owned newspaper) no later than November 10. Two months earlier, Manly had published an editorial, written either by himself or an associate editor, discussing white men’s hypocrisy in the frequent lynching of black men accused of raping white women while at the same time “debauching” African American women.

When the Committee of Twenty-Five’s demands were not met, more than 1500 Democratic white supremacists took matters into their own hands. They burnt down Manly’s newspaper building, killed many African Americans, and destroyed the majority-African American Brooklyn neighborhood.

Although federal Naval Reserves and the Wilmington Light Infantry were sent to quell the violence, they ended up killing several African Americans themselves. Some whites were wounded, but none were reported killed; African American casualty estimates, however, ranged from 8 to 100. Ultimately, more than 2,000 African Americans left Wilmington permanently, significantly altering the city’s demographics from majority African-American to majority-white. The political landscape changed dramatically too, as white supremacist Democrats seized control.

The Democratic white supremacists’ violent ascent to power foreshadowed changes to come across North Carolina, which would soon pass its first Jim Crow laws, including a constitutional amendment requiring poll taxes and literacy tests as a means to disfranchise African Americans. Democrats won in a landslide again in 1900; African Americans would have to wait and struggle for decades before legislation such as the Voting rights Act of 1965 finally began to roll back disfranchisement measures.

More than a century later, the riot stands as a haunting reminder of the intimidation and danger African Americans faced for decades in the South. A commission established in 2000 by the North Carolina General Assembly conducted a formal investigation. To read the committee’s 2006 report, which outlines a conspiracy among white supremacist Democrats and several news organizations, click here. The 1898 Foundation in 2008 unveiled a monument and memorial park commemorating those who were killed that day.

To learn more, check out David Cecelski and Timothy Tyson’s edited volume, Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 and Its Legacy (UNC Press 1998).

Online sources include NCPedia, the Wilmington Star News, the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission, and this post from the UNC Press blog. This page from Learn NC includes a summary and a map.

To read Alexander Manly’s editorial, which would later fuel white supremacists’ anger, check out this link from the North Carolina Collection.

To read early perspectives on the riot, check out this page from Documenting the American South.

The Wilmington Riot was later followed by other race riots, such as the Atlanta Race Riot of 1906, the Elaine Massacre of 1919, and the Rosewood Massacre of 1923. To learn more about other race riots, check out Ann Collins’ All Hell Broke Loose: American Race Riots from the Progressive Era through World War II (Praeger 2012).

To learn more about postbellum racial violence, check out Kidada Williams’ They Left Great Marks on Me: African American Testimonies of Racial Violence from Emancipation to World War I (NYU Press, 2012).

From The Chapel Hill News: Unexpected library discovery unearths historical tale

The Chapel Hill News recently printed a story about new research by historian Benjamin Filene, a UNC-Greensboro history professor whose trip to the North Carolina Collection at Wilson Library (UNC Chapel Hill) set him off on a multi-year study surrounding fifty 1930s-era photographs.

The photographs, which were used to illustrate Stella Sharpe’s children’s book Tobe (UNC Press 1939), explore African Americans’ lives on North Carolina farms. Filene has traced the photos to two Greensboro families, and the stories to an African American tenant family living on Sharpe’s own land. Apparently, Sharpe wrote the book after one of the African American tenant farmers asked her why the individuals pictured in her children’s books didn’t look like him.

Filene will continue his research, with the possibility of exhibiting it in the Orange County Historical Museum, where he will give a talk this coming Sunday, October 28.

To read the Chapel Hill News article, click here.

Sharpe’s book, Tobe, is available for purchase through UNC Press’s Enduring Editions collection.

From the Archives: Terror in Anson County with the Integration of the Morven City Schools, 1966-1967

This post is the 11th in a series 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.

UNC, NC Council on Human Relation records, folder 519, scan 35

Late one Friday night in September 1966 in Anson County, NC, a bomb exploded about twenty feet outside the home of Clyde Owens. Just weeks before, his two eldest children had been among the first African Americans to attend Morven, the formerly all-white school in the county. This began a string of terrorism that lasted throughout the 1966-1967 school year. Documents from a civil action lawsuit documenting these events can be found in the North Carolina Council on Human Relations Records, which were recently digitized as part of the Triangle Research Libraries Network’s large-scale digitization grant.

That same night, a poolroom that had recently opened its doors to African Americans was also bombed. A couple weeks later in the early morning hours of Monday, September 12, two more bombs were detonated at the homes of African American families with children attending Morven. At about 1:00 a.m. that same night, a third bomb was thrown at the home of another African American resident, Lula Liles. The explosion shattered every window and mirror in her house. Her son, Larry, had chosen to attend Morven as part of a new freedom of choice plan that permitted parents and students to choose which school children would attend. A fourth bomb exploded on September 12 under the family car of Ellis Brodie, destroying the car and most of the windows in her house. As of the filing of the civil action brief in January 1968 that details these events, no one had been arrested or prosecuted for the bombings.
Continue reading ‘From the Archives: Terror in Anson County with the Integration of the Morven City Schools, 1966-1967’

From the Archives: Alfonso Elder on the Pursuit of Excellence in a Changing World

This post is the 8th in a series from the Triangle Research Libraries Network’s CCC project, digitizing more than 40 archival collections related to the long civil rights movement from four area institutions.  For more on this digitization project, click here.

Alfonso Elder, NCCU President (1948-1963)

President of North Carolina Central University (NCCU) during the height of the civil rights era, Alfonso Elder was placed in an ideal position to observe student activism and the role that young adults played within the civil rights movement. He was an adamant supporter of such student involvement and strongly believed that one of the best ways for youth to contribute to the cause was the serious pursuit of their studies. [1]

Elder, the second president of NCCU, served from 1948 to 1963 at a time when the institution was known as the North Carolina College at Durham. However, Elder’s history at NCCU began two decades before his presidency, when he worked as a professor of Education and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1924 to 1943. [2] In 1925, soon after Elder’s arrival, NCCU became the nation’s first state-supported liberal arts college for African Americans. [3] As both an educator and a university president, Elder was fiercely dedicated to his students and to the field of higher education.

Continue reading ‘From the Archives: Alfonso Elder on the Pursuit of Excellence in a Changing World’

Remembering Guinn v. United States

On June 21, 1915—97 years ago today—in the landmark Guinn v. United States, the Supreme Court struck down Oklahoma’s grandfather clause, marking an important step in the fight for suffrage for all citizens, regardless of race.

The clause, part of the Voter Registration Act of 1910, required voters to pass a literacy test; however, it exempted citizens who were entitled to vote on January 1, 1866 (before African Americans gained suffrage through the Fifteenth Amendment), and those whose ancestors (“grandfathers”) were entitled to vote at that time.

Unsurprisingly, given the racial discrimination prevalent at the time, local voter registration officials applied the law in different ways. Often, they imposed unreasonable literacy tests on African American applicants—or refused to administer the test at all.

Finally, in 1915, the federal government prosecuted voter registration officials for denying African American citizens of Oklahoma the right to vote, as a violation of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Also in question was a piece of Maryland’s constitution, which carried similar restrictions.

In a unanimous ruling (one justice sat out), the Supreme Court struck down the restrictions as unconstitutional. The decision read, in part:

. . . how can there be room for any serious dispute concerning the repugnancy of the standard based upon January 1, 1866 (a date which preceded the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment), if the suffrage provision fixing that standard is susceptible of the significance with which the Government attributes to it? Indeed, there seems no escape from the conclusion that to hold that there was even possibility for dispute on the subject would be but to declare that the Fifteenth Amendment not only had not the self-executing power which it has been recognized to have from the beginning, but that its previous provisions were wholly inoperative, because susceptible of being rendered inapplicable by more forms of expression embodying no exercise of judgment and resting upon no discernible reason other than the purpose to disregard the prohibitions of the Amendment by creating a standard of voting which on its face was, in substance, but a revitalization of conditions which, when they prevailed in the past, had been destroyed by the self-operative force of the Amendment.

Although the ruling had little short-term effect (Oklahoma quickly passed new voter registration restrictions), it led to the dismantling of similar restrictions in other southern states, such as Alabama, North Carolina, Louisiana, Virginia, and Georgia. The battle for suffrage continued for many more decades, but the ruling marked an important step toward the eventual banning of voting restrictions seen in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

To read the full text of the Supreme Court decision, click here.

For more information, click here, and check out this entry from the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture.

For more on disfranchisement, click here, or check out Michael Perman’s Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888-1908 (UNC Press, 2001).

For more on suffrage, check out J. Morgan Kousser’s Colorblind Injustice: Minority Voting Rights and the Undoing of the Second Reconstruction (UNC Press, 1999) and Charles S. Bullock III and Ronald Keith Gaddie’s The Triumph of Voting Rights in the South (University of Oklahoma Press, 2009).