Durham's Civil Rights Heritage

Durham Committee on Negro Affairs
Mar. 09, 2013 @ 11:56 AM

This feature is brought to you by the Durham County Library’s North Carolina Collection, whose primary purpose is to preserve and make available the historical record of Durham County. If you have Durham-related files, photographs, or memorabilia and would like to donate them to the Collection, contact Lynn Richardson, (919) 560-0171, lrichard@dconc.gov . For more information about the Collection and its treasures, visit the web site at  http://www.durhamcountylibrary.org/ncc.php .

The Durham Committee on Negro Affairs was established in 1935, marking the beginning of the modern phase of the quest for civil rights in Durham.

While accounts of its founding differ, all agree that C. C. Spaulding, head of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, called the first meeting and was elected first president of the group. In its early years the Durham Committee focused on registering voters (the city went from having 50 registered black voters in 1928 to over 3,000 by 1939), running black candidates for election to local office and getting blacks into elected and appointed positions traditionally reserved for whites.

In this photograph the Committee is meeting with Luther Hodges, governor of North Carolina from 1954 to 1961. Hodges, who took a conservative approach to limiting racial tension, was hesitant to accept the Durham Committee's demands, such as the desegregation of schools, for fear of disturbing civic peace.

Speaking to Hodges is John Wheeler, president of Mechanics and Farmers Bank, an attorney and civil rights advocate who served as chairman of the Durham Committee from 1957 until his death in 1978. Louis Austin, the editor and publisher of Durham's Carolina Times and a forceful spokesman for black rights, is seated immediately to Wheeler's left.