When he first came to Durham in 1960 to work for N.C. Mutual Life Insurance Co., Howard Clement III told his boss he planned to stay in the city about 10 years, then go back to Charleston, S.C, to practice law.
“That never happened,” Clement said during his remarks at a reception Tuesday honoring his donation of his personal papers to the Durham County Library’s North Carolina Collection.
Born in Cleveland, N.C., Clement grew up in Charleston but quickly became part of Durham’s history. He was president of the Black Solidarity Committee for Community Improvement, which led a boycott in the 1960s that led to the integration of stores and other public accommodations. Since 1983, he has been a member of the Durham City Council, and an advocate for Durham’s schools.
“I’m simply overwhelmed,” he said during the reception at the Durham County Library. He called his time on the council “a wonderful journey” and thanked his family and his church, St. Titus Episcopal, for their longtime inspiration.
With characteristic good humor, Clement told the audience that he would have been gratified if five people had shown up, but “more of you needed something to eat,” and decided to attend the reception, he said.
Clement has donated about 20 boxes of his personal papers to the library, said Lynn Richardson, North Carolina Collection librarian. The collection’s mission is to “preserve the historical record of Durham,” and while the archive collects many items, “the thing that really gives the collection its depth and its richness” are the kinds of papers Clement has donated, Richardson said. After they are processed and organized, they will be made available for researchers and scholars.
Willis P. Whichard, founding president of the Durham Library Foundation, praised Clement for his civic virtue. “He has planted a lot of trees from which a lot of future generations will enjoy the shade,” Whichard said.
Whichard said he has known Clement since about 1968, when “Durham’s future was changing. We knew Durham had a different kind of future…. It was a future open to the contributions of all people, and Howard Clement was one of the people who helped make that happen,” Whichard said.
Clement has witnessed Durham undergo economic and cultural change, and his donation to the archive represents “a significant contribution to history,” Whichard said. “I have no doubt that the Clement papers will be a valuable resource for those who write about Durham during those difficult times.”
Clement’s wife, Annie Jones Clement, joined him during the reception. Clement introduced and acknowledged the members of his family.
Clement, who has bachelor and law degrees from Howard University, is a former executive with N.C. Mutual Life Insurance Co. In 1987, he made an unsuccessful bid for mayor. He was mayor pro tem from 1997-2001.
He was at the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. In 1971, Clement was part of the steering committee that organized a series of charrettes to help pave the way for school integration in Durham, along with Joe Becton, C.P. Ellis (who at the time was head of the Ku Klux Klan) and community activist Ann Atwater.
As chronicled in Osha Gray Davidson’s book “The Best of Enemies,” Clement and Ellis became lifelong friends (as did Ellis and Atwater). “This is history,” Clement said of his papers. “My father told me, Don’t you get mixed up in anything” and to focus on his family. When his father read that he was friends with Ellis, “he said, ‘Have you lost your mind?’”
When he broached the idea of running for City Council, his father told him he was “too brash” and “too militant,” Clement said. “Well, for the past 30 years, I’ve proved him right,” Clement said, drawing a laugh from the audience. “That’s been a wonderful journey.”