Heritage Calendar honors the African-American experience in NC

From staff reportsOctober 20, 2013 

— A Raleigh family that challenged the city’s desegregated schools, a crusading newspaper editor who took on the Ku Klux Klan and a father and son who have worked to preserve and celebrate blues music are among those featured in the second edition of a calendar that honors people who have contributed to the African-American experience in North Carolina.

The 2014 Heritage Calendar will be unveiled Wednesday at a private ceremony at the Executive Mansion in Raleigh.

The calendar is produced by AT&T, which has published similar calendars in South Carolina and other Southern states for years. The 2014 edition is the second of what the company hopes will be many in North Carolina.

“Our state has been built and molded by many extraordinary people,” said Venessa Harrison, president of AT&T North Carolina. “We have been looking forward to recognizing another group of honorees who have made a difference in so many lives, while also sharing their stories to educate and inspire 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 starting later this year. The text in the calendar was researched and written by students at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill - including Olivia Cox, Mary Liz Entwistle, Corinne Jurney and Zach Mayo - and edited by Winston Cavin.

The calendar is available for download at www.ncheritagecalendar.com/media2014/, as will the lesson plans when they are completed.

Here is some more information about the people featured in the calendar.

Melvin 'Skip' Alston

Melvin “Skip” Alston was 10 years old in 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Vowing to follow in his hero’s footsteps, Alston charted a course in business, politics and service that would make him one of the most influential people in his community.

Alston grew up in Durham and moved to Greensboro, where he started his own real estate firm. He soon joined the NAACP, serving on the national board from 1987 to 2006 and as president of the Greensboro branch from 1991 to 1993.

In 1992, Alston was elected to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, where he served for 20 years and became the first African-American chairman in 2003. “A lot of blacks before me were more qualified than I was,” Alston said. “They were not given that opportunity because of the color of their skin.”

Alston helped launch Sit-In Movement Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to buying the historic Woolworth building in Greensboro where the sit-in movement began in 1960. The building now houses the International Civil Rights Center and Museum.

Robert Bridges

The oldest of five children reared on a farm near Shelby, Robert Bridges, now 79, embraced his father’s passionate belief that education is the key to opportunity and success.

Inspired by his father, Bridges earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from St. Augustine’s College, a master’s from N.C. State University and a doctorate in education from Duke University.

Beginning his career as a sixth-grade teacher after graduating from St. Augustine’s in 1961, he became principal of the former Crosby-Garfield Elementary School in Raleigh in 1968. When the Raleigh and Wake County school systems merged in 1976, Bridges saw an opportunity for minority students.

In 1985, an all-white school board named him superintendent of the Wake County Public School System, the first African-American to hold the position.

Bridges strove to close the achievement gap between affluent and low-income children, chairing a state commission and creating “A Helping Hands,” a nonprofit that is still active placing African-American men in the lives of at-risk children.

Charlotte Hawkins Brown

Charlotte Hawkins Brown was born in Henderson in 1883, the granddaughter of a slave, and soon learned education was the best way to advance. Brown attended school in Massachusetts, where she met Alice Freeman Palmer, an educator and activist for women’s higher education, who became Brown’s mentor and supporter.

Returning to North Carolina, Brown launched her mission to help Southern African-Americans pursue educational equality and opened the Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia in 1902.

Brown believed in a well-rounded education and developed a holistic program at the institute. It included training in social graces, which she called “one means of turning the wheels of progress with greater velocity on the upward road to equal opportunity for all.”

Brown helped ignite the African-American women’s movement as one of the founders of the Federation of Women’s Clubs of North Carolina, which brought together civic, religious and social groups to fight for racial and gender equality.

The Palmer Memorial Institute closed in 1971, but in 1987 its campus became a state historic site.

Walter Horace Carter

Walter Horace Carter’s tenacious opposition to the Ku Klux Klan earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and helped impede the Klan’s expansion in North Carolina.

A native of Albemarle, Carter moved to Columbus County in 1946 after leaving the U.S. Navy and founded the weekly Tabor City Tribune. In July 1950, the Klan staged a parade through town to highlight recruiting efforts, and Carter responded with an editorial expressing his disdain.

Under the headline “No Excuse for KKK,” Carter called the Ku Klux Klan “the personification of Fascism and Nazism” and a disturbance to newly found tranquility in most post-war communities.

It was the first of more than 100 articles and editorials he would write over the next three years as he and Willard Cole, editor of the neighboring Whiteville News Reporter, stood up to the Klan. Despite personal threats from Klan leaders and a general lack of community support, Carter and Cole stayed firm in their beliefs and continued to publish.

Their work prompted the FBI to get involved, leading to convictions of more than 100 Klan members.

Willie Cooper

Willie Cooper paid a heavy price for breaking a color barrier at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1964.

The first African-American basketball player for legendary coach Dean Smith, Cooper played on the freshman team for a year before leaving the squad with painful memories.

Cooper came to Chapel Hill from Elm City, with a love of learning and a competitive drive that produced high test scores in the classroom and success on the basketball court.

One of just 18 black students in his UNC-Chapel Hill class, Cooper was pushed around by teammates, insulted by crowds and ignored in restaurants during team road trips.

Once, to avoid conflict, he was left behind on a trip to South Carolina.

After being asked to leave the athletic dormitory because his white roommates did not want to live with him, Cooper made the difficult decision to give up basketball. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business in 1968 and, after military service that included a deployment to Vietnam, accepted a job at IBM, where he later became an Equal Opportunity Manager.

Clyde 'Pop' Ferguson

Clyde “Pop” Ferguson Sr. got his first taste of the blues outside a Caldwell County juke joint. Because his father, a preacher, wouldn’t allow him to go inside, he paid passers-by a nickel to play tunes from the jukebox that could be heard outside.

“He would absorb the melody, run half a mile home and work on his guitar until he could play it perfectly,” Clyde Ferguson Jr. said.

Ferguson Sr. has been a traveling musician all his life and was estranged from his son, who was born in 1951, for most of it.

In 2008, the two reunited and formed the band Pop Ferguson and the Blues Review and the Pop Ferguson Blues Heritage Festival. Their music mixes entertainment and education, helping to raise the cultural awareness of listeners.

Pop Ferguson and the Blues Review frequently performs statewide, showcasing songs from the 1920s to the 1950s.

Father and son have each played a major role in preserving and celebrating African-American music. In 2008, “Pop” was inducted into the Smithsonian Institute Hall for his work in African-American music.

Shirley Fulton

Shirley Fulton left her family’s farm in Kingstree, S.C., at 16 and came to North Carolina to attend college. After graduating from N.C. A&T State University, Fulton earned a law degree at Duke in 1980 while raising a child on her own.

Tapping into connections made in school, Fulton moved to Charlotte in 1982 and became the city’s first black female prosecutor. She was appointed District County judge in the 26th Judicial District five years later.

Rising quickly, Fulton was elected to Superior Court in 1988, ultimately serving 14 years. Though she was the first black woman on the Superior Court bench in North Carolina, she would have preferred not to have broken the barrier.

“It made me feel shame for society that we had come that far and we were just getting black females in the role,” she said.

In 1993, Fulton began a battle with breast cancer which forced her to take a leave of absence from the bench in 1996 to undergo treatment at Duke. Returning to the court the following year, she was named senior resident Superior Court judge.

The Holt family

Joe Holt Sr. and Elwyna Holt believed strongly in education and self-respect, and they wanted their studious son, Joe Holt Jr., to see himself as a first-class citizen in the wake of court orders mandating desegregation. So in 1956, the Holts became the first African-American family to apply to all-white Josephus Daniels Junior High in Raleigh.

The application was denied, and Holt Jr. enrolled at Ligon High, the “black” school in Raleigh. The Holts requested a transfer to Broughton High, the nearby “white” school, but were turned down. A subsequent lawsuit against the Raleigh City School Board was unsuccessful, with the U.S. Supreme Court declining to hear the case a few months before Holt Jr. graduated in 1960, second in his class at Ligon, having never attended a “white” school.

“Segregation was more than separation; it was exclusion,” Holt Jr. said.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from St. Augustine’s College in 1964, the joined the U.S. Air Force, where he served 26 years before retiring as a lieutenant colonel.

Now living in Durham, he remains keenly interested in civil rights issues.

Manteo Mitchell

Faith, focus, finish. These simple words carry Manteo Mitchell through every step, both on and off the track.

For the Olympian from Mooresboro, not every step has been easy. At the 2012 Olympic Games in London, midway through the third leg of the 4x400-meter relay, Mitchell’s fibula snapped. Courageously, he finished the next 200 meters with a time that enabled his team to advance and ultimately win a silver medal.

“Faith, focus, finish” became even more important post-London, as Mitchell returned home a hero. The world had seen what happened and wanted to hear his story. He found a new place to excel – the speaker’s podium.

Since his return, Mitchell’s speaking engagements have ranged from schools to corporate events to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“I think a lot of people understand me because they understand where I come from and where I’m trying to go,” he said. Mitchell, hopes that his story will inspire others in the classroom, workplace and life, as well as on the track.

At age 26, Mitchell continues to compete internationally.

Jane Smith Patterson

Jane Smith Patterson’s activism for equality began as a teenager at a Greensboro movie theater in the early 1960s, when an African-American friend was refused a ticket.

After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill, Patterson began a career in state politics as assistant secretary and later secretary of administration in Gov. Jim Hunt’s cabinet. During Hunt’s first term (1977-1981), she spearheaded development of the first coordinated information technology model, her first efforts to link government, the economy and technology to better the lives of North Carolinians.

Patterson continued her technology drive during Hunt’s third and fourth terms (1993-2001), and, after he left office, as Director of the e-NC Authority, a public initiative to increase broadband access statewide. Working with the public and private sectors, the e-NC Authority was able to increase the availability of connectivity to North Carolina households from 36 to 82 percent and bring in millions in federal funding for broadband infrastructure upgrades.

“Technology,” Patterson said, “is an equalizer.”

Harold and Lucille Webb

Harold and Lucille Webb have dedicated their lives to serving North Carolina and the United States, in fields as diverse as education, public health, civil rights and the military.

A native of Greensboro, Harold Webb enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1943, serving as a pilot with WWII’s legendary Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American unit to fly and maintain American combat aircraft.

After the war, Harold enrolled at N.C. A&T State University. He graduated with a bachelor’s in biology and began a career in education, first as a teacher and later as a principal and deputy superintendent.

Harold led the North Carolina Title I Program, a federal effort to bridge the opportunity gap by serving low-income, minority students. He was active in politics and was a Wake County commissioner for seven years.

Lucille Webb was born in Richmond, Va., and met Harold at N.C. A&T. After earning a bachelor’s in applied sociology, she taught eighth grade in Hillsborough, then moved to the Wake County Public School System, where she became curriculum director and personnel administrator.

George Williams

George Williams has coached 33 NCAA national championship teams, 32 Olympians (including three gold medalists) and garnered more than 100 coach-of-the-year awards.

The Miami, Fla., native graduated from St. Augustine’s College in 1965, returning in 1968 to begin a career that included working in admissions, student activities and alumni affairs. As head coach for the men’s and women’s track and field and cross-country teams since 1976, he continually stresses the priority of academics, especially to prospective students.

“I tell them quickly that the first thing is academics, second is athletics, and then a controlled social life – in that order,” he said. “I don’t care how good you are, how fast you can run, or how high you can jump. If you’re not here for an education, then you can go home.”

Williams’ scholarship athletes boast a 95 percent graduation rate.

In 2004, in recognition of his reputation and achievements, he was named head coach for the 2004 United States Men’s Olympic Track and Field Team in Athens, Greece.

Not surprisingly, his team brought home 19 medals.

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