Dawson Jr., education advocate

Amos Council Dawson Jr., a longtime education advocate who guided the merger of black and white teachers associations in North Carolina, died this week.

Dawson, known as A.C., was a three-sport college athlete who went on to lobby for teachers and retirees for 59 years. He died Tuesday at age 93.

Dawson's career in education began in Southern Pines, where he was hired as a teacher and coach in the late 1930s.

Dawson became acting president of the N.C. Education Association, as the group for white teachers was called, in 1947. He became president a year later. In 1952, he was hired as the organization's executive director and led the group's merger in the 1960s with its black counterpart, the N.C. Teachers Association.

When the national teachers group said it would no longer recognize segregated teachers associations, Dawson pushed the North Carolina merger through despite some resistance, said Glenn Keever, who was the communications director for the association.

"He was at one time almost the single voice crying out for merging the two organizations in North Carolina," Keever said. "Not many were listening. He doggedly kept on until people came to his way of thinking, which was the right way."

Dawson became head of the merged group, the N.C. Association of Educators, and continued as a champion for higher teacher pay and improved working conditions.

"His whole philosophy was to make teaching a profession and treat it as such," said Lacy Presnell, who worked with Dawson as a lobbyist for retired teachers. "In the early days, teachers' salaries were very, very low. His main position was that if you had professional teachers, you had to have professional compensation."

Speaking for more money in the education budget in 1973, Dawson said the state "cannot buy Cadillac education with horse and buggy appropriations."

Dawson also was an adviser to candidates and governors, and he prodded teachers to become politically active.

"We have to show we can deliver the votes and the cash," he said in 1971.

The state previously did not provide teachers with sick leave. Dawson lobbied to get five sick days a year, Keever said, but the legislature approved three days.

Keever remembers being furious but said Dawson wasn't. He recalled Dawson giving him this advice: "In the legislature, Glenn, you have to chop the dog's tail off a little bit at a time."

Dawson retired from the NCAE in 1978 but went to work for the retired teachers' division soon after. He worked for many years as a volunteer lobbyist to improve the state employee health plan and the state retirement system.

"He always loved the General Assembly, and they loved him," Keever said.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. today at White Memorial Presbyterian Church, 1704 Oberlin Road, Raleigh.