Calendar honors North Carolinians who blazed trail for African Americans, equality

From staff reportsOctober 22, 2012 


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— Four college students who sparked a movement, Wake County’s first African-American sheriff and UNC’s winningest basketball coach are among those featured in a new calendar that honors people who contributed to the African-American experience in North Carolina.

The 2013 Heritage Calendar will be unveiled Wednesday at a gala at Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh.

The calendar is produced by AT&T, which has published similar calendars in South Carolina and other Southern states for years. The 2013 edition is the first of what the company hopes will be many in North Carolina.

“The contributions made by those who will be honored in the calendar have played an invaluable role in enriching the fabric of diversity for our state,” Cynthia Marshall, president of AT&T North Carolina, said in a statement. “We are looking forward to recognizing them and helping share their stories with future generations.”

To complement the calendar, the state Department of Public Instruction has developed lesson plans and other materials online that school teachers can use in their classrooms. The text in the calendar was researched and written by students at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The calendar and the lesson plans will be available at beginning Wednesday evening. There are a limited number of free tickets available for Wednesday’s gala by going to the website.

Here are those honored in the calendar:

Justice Henry & Shirley Frye

Henry and Shirley Frye had similar childhoods growing up on North Carolina farms and a shared, ingrained passion for helping those less fortunate.

The Fryes met at N.C. A&T University in the early 1950s. After graduation, Henry Frye spent four years in the Air Force, serving in Korea and Japan, before returning to North Carolina to marry Shirley Frye. He was inspired to become a lawyer after he was forced to take a written test to register to vote.

Henry Frye became the state’s first African-American legislator in the 20th century in 1968. He later became the first African American on the N.C. Supreme Court and to be appointed chief justice. “It’s a solemn thing,” he said. “As the first person to do something, you don’t want to mess it up.”

Shirley Frye taught children with special needs for 10 years and worked on behalf of service organizations across the state. The Fryes continue to contribute to their Greensboro community through volunteer work, endowed professorships at their alma mater, and the Henry and Shirley Frye Summertime Kids Fund.

The Greensboro Four

On Feb. 1, 1960, four freshmen at N.C. A&T University – Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, the late David Richmond and Ezell Blair Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan) – took seats at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Greensboro.

A waitress immediately told them that blacks weren’t served there, but they placed their orders and sat calmly, aware of the potential danger they faced.

To their surprise, nothing happened. When the store manager called police, the chief determined there was nothing he could do if the men stayed quiet.

When they returned to campus, the men invited other campus groups to join their sit-in. The number of participants increased daily. Soon, black students from other colleges and some white students who supported the cause joined the effort, many forming their own peaceful sit-ins at other stores. This movement quickly spread to other North Carolina towns and eventually to 54 cities in nine states.

Today, the Greensboro Four are revered for their courage in kick-starting a movement to end legal segregation in the South.

Congresswoman Eva Clayton

Before she made history in the U.S. House of Representatives, Eva Clayton stayed busy with school, church, Girl Scouts and more in Augusta, Ga. Clayton, the first in her family to attend college, studied biology at Charlotte’s Johnson C. Smith University, aspiring to become a doctor missionary. Her work with the American Friends Service Committee shaped her aspirations to help others.

In 1968, at the peak of the civil rights movement, the wife and mother of four made her first run for Congress. Reginald Hawkins, a Charlotte physician running for governor, planned a rally in Clayton’s district where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would speak. King was killed a week before the rally. Though she was defeated, the campaign helped raise African-American voter registration to record highs in the state.

In 1992, she became the first woman ever elected to Congress from North Carolina – and the first African American since 1901. She later worked with the U.N. Food Agriculture Organization in Rome, addressing food security issues worldwide.

Ammie McRae Jenkins

In 1882, Ammie Jenkins’ great-grandfather, a former slave, purchased 658 acres of land in Harnett County. He and three of his sons worked in tar and turpentine to pay for the land that was divided among his descendants.

When her father died in 1954, racial threats forced Jenkins’ mother and her seven children to relocate to Spring Lake.

In the midst of civil rights protests and marches, Jenkins enrolled in High Point College in 1962 and became the first African American to integrate the college. In 1978, Jenkins visited the ancestral home, bringing back memories of family gatherings, self-sufficiency, independence and the benefits of land ownership. Inspired, she sought to learn more about her heritage and discovered self-sufficient, interconnected communities that she documented in two books, “Preserving Our Family Heritage” and “Healing from the Land.”

In 2001, at 60 years old, Jenkins founded the Sandhills Family Heritage Association (SFHA) to address the issues of loss of land, livelihoods and cultural heritage.

Dean Smith

In 1966, an unassuming figure emerged as a force for integration in Chapel Hill.

University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith, who had been head coach at UNC for five years, fueled desegregation efforts in the state when he recruited New York native Charles Scott as the school’s first African-American scholarship athlete.

The Rev. Robert Seymour, a pastor emeritus at Binkley Memorial Baptist Church, worked alongside Smith to garner momentum for civil rights in Chapel Hill. “He was the only coach willing to take a stand on important issues, which helped shape the opinions of many,” Seymour said.

Smith played a critical role in the integration of Chapel Hill restaurant The Pines in 1964 and in helping African American friend Howard Lee purchase a home in an all-white neighborhood in 1965. The coach, who led the Tar Heels to 11 Final Fours and two national championships, never sought praise for his contributions to civil rights.

“He was always willing to give credit to other people and didn’t like the celebrity limelight,” Seymour said.

Mary E. Perry

The road that led Mary Perry to become the longest-serving NAACP president in North Carolina history began with a misstep. Perry was on a trip to the local theater with a younger cousin when a white girl stepped on her cousin’s toe. Perry, a teenager at the time, felt it was her duty to protect her cousin.

“I said to the white girl, ‘Aren’t you going to say ‘excuse me’?’ ” Perry said.

The police chief told Perry she had to get out of town for speaking up.

“And from that day on, I said, I’m going to fight because this is just awful the way blacks are treated,” Perry said.

Perry turned to Ruth Morgan, a member of Perry’s church and president of the Wendell-Wake branch of the NAACP.

With Morgan’s guidance, 16-year-old Perry began registering black voters and raising NAACP memberships. Perry became more involved over the years and went on to register more than 10,000 voters. She was eventually elected president, and became the longest-serving NAACP president in North Carolina history.

“If I can help somebody, then my living will not be in vain,” she said.

Gov. Jim Hunt

Four historic terms and many years ago, Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. changed the perception of the state. The longest-serving governor in the state’s history (1977 to 1985, 1993 to 2001), Hunt led the state through remarkable economic change, education reform and cultural growth.

During his time as governor, Hunt made equal opportunities and civil rights a focus. In “Jim Hunt: A Biography” by Gary Pearce, Howard Lee says Hunt was the “first governor to bring women and minorities, especially blacks, into central roles in government.”

While Hunt was in office, North Carolina installed its first African-American cabinet secretary, first African-American Court of Appeals judge, first African-American Supreme Court Justice and first African-American Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Hunt already had pushed for civil rights before becoming governor. As chair of the N.C. Democratic Party reform commission in 1970, Hunt expedited a rewrite of party rules to require more participation by African Americans, women and youth and pushed the party to reach out to minority voters.

Clarence E. “Big House” Gaines

Clarence E. “Big House” Gaines believed in being prepared and being the best at whatever one did.

To his mother, being prepared for success meant becoming a dentist. So when Gaines left his hometown of Paducah, Ky., in 1941 to attend Morgan State University in Baltimore, that was his intention.

His 6-foot-4 inch frame, which quickly earned him the nickname “Big House,” gave him an advantage over other players in football and basketball.

Following graduation, he went to Winston-Salem Teachers College as an assistant football coach for Howard “Brutus” Wilson.

Intended as a temporary stop on the way to graduate school, it began a 47-year career in coaching. A year later, at 23, Gaines held the positions of athletic director and head coach in football, basketball, track, tennis and boxing.

Gaines was no ordinary coach, transforming the sports program at the small teachers college into one of the most well-known and respected athletic departments in the country. He also helped blur the lines of segregation in college athletics.

Dorothy Counts-Scoggins

When Dorothy “Dot” Counts-Scoggins was 15, she knew she wanted to dedicate her life to helping all children receive a decent education, her mission for nearly 40 years.

Before her freshman year of high school in 1957, Dot’s parents, along with others in their segregated Charlotte community, applied for their children to be among the first to attend an all-white public school.

When Counts-Scoggins, one of four students to transfer, arrived at Harding High School, she was accosted by a large group of white protestors. She remembered hearing a lady shouting “Spit on her!” as the crowd jeered and threw things at her back.

After a week, her parents, fearing for her safety, took her out of Harding and sent her to live with relatives in Pennsylvania.

Motivated by her experience, in 1975, Dot established a child care program for disadvantaged children at Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Charlotte, where she was the director for 12 years. She later joined Child Care Resources Inc., where for 24 years she worked to ensure that all children get a quality pre-school education.

Olinzie D. Johnson

Olinzie D. Johnson of Durham is a guiding light for her community. The 89-year-old, who lives in Durham, has been a perennial advocate for education; she has marched in opposition to busing, ensured ways for children to get to school, mentored in the classroom and founded a scholarship fund for high school seniors and college students at Mount Level Baptist Church.

The scholarship was sparked by the outpouring of love following her mother’s death in 1976, when so many floral arrangements were sent that Johnson donated them to a nursing home. While the flowers were enjoyed by the home’s residents, Johnson realized that the money spent could have been put toward a scholarship for students, so she founded one at her church.

Created in honor of Johnson’s mother, the Albert E. Love Scholarship Fund was named after a young man who was a community role model and philanthropist. Johnson did not want the scholarship named after herself or “someone who had expired” because she sees the scholarship’s young recipients as role models for other students.

John Haywood Baker Jr.

The image of a Southern sheriff may be intimidating – a stern man of the law with a zero-tolerance attitude. But the late Wake County Sheriff John Haywood Baker Jr. stood in stark contrast to that stereotype.

“He had a love for serving mankind,” John Haywood Baker III said about his father, the first African-American sheriff in North Carolina since Reconstruction.

Baker, a Wake County native who played football for N.C. Central University and four NFL teams, spent most of his career serving Wake, particularly focusing on adolescents. “They were a big part of him and his message,” Baker’s son said.

During his 24-year tenure as sheriff, Baker was saddened by the number of young adults he arrested on drug-related charges, reinforcing his belief that education was key to improving the lives of incarcerated teens.

To provide educational opportunities for imprisoned youth, Baker proposed creating a charter school in the county jail. “He wanted to break that cycle,” his son said. The John H. Baker Jr. Charter School opened in 1997.

Tom Bradshaw

Tom Bradshaw was proud to be a part of the integration of the city of Raleigh and Wake County schools.

Bradshaw, the Raleigh mayor from 1971 to 1973, prefers to be seen as an education advocate. But his campaign to build Interstate 40 and the Raleigh Beltline made the idea of a single countywide school system viable.Bradshaw, who was recently inducted into the Raleigh Hall of Fame, was a volunteer with the League of Women Voters to promote a $20 million bond for public schools in 1960. The experience motivated him to become even more involved in education.

As mayor, he knew a strong public school system was key to economic development and believed the best way to enhance the public school system in Wake County was to merge the two existing systems. “The key to our growth and prosperity has been the investment we have made to combine the school systems,” he says.

To honor the passing of Clarence E. Lightner, the first black mayor of Raleigh and Bradshaw’s successor, he and several others founded the YMCA Achievers Program in 2003.

Compiled by UNC-Chapel Hill students Justine Berger, Nora Chan, Katie Holt and Jamie Gnazzo and edited by Winston Cavin

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