For nearly half a century, Louis E. Austin edited The Carolina Times, which relentlessly challenged the Jim Crow segregation that, for much of Austin’s life, was legally sanctioned and often violently enforced in Durham and throughout the South.
Saturday, the Museum of Durham History will honor Austin’s life and legacy with the dedication of its latest History Grove at Solite Park, at 4704 Fayetteville St. “The paper’s motto was ‘The Truth Unbridled, and Austin used the paper to publicize racial inequities and to fight for racial equality in North Carolina and throughout the United States,” the history museum’s website aptly notes.
It would be difficult to overstate the role of The Carolina Times, and the undaunted courage of Austin and his colleagues, in providing a voice for African-Americans during a time when what little coverage appeared in the white press was often demeaning. The new plaque at the Solite Park history grove sums up Austin’s role in “The Long Black Freedom Struggle:”
“Growing up in an era of white supremacy, many blacks gave up hope of overturning racial segregation in economic, political and social life. But Austin had the vision and fortitude to use the power of the press to fight for a country that treated all as equal.”
A few weeks after Austin’s death on June 12, 1971, The New York Times published an op-ed column by Carolina Times reporter John Dolan Myers in memory of Austin. Through the years, Myers wrote, “The Carolina Times grew as a voice of the people. Its masthead became a symbol of condemnation, not only to the white power structure but to the blacks when they were sluggish in relevant issues, as in 1949 when he wrote ‘Ministers, teachers, business and professional leaders should bestir themselves now and see that every Negro who can qualify, votes.’”
(Fortunately, through the efforts of the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center housed at UNC-Chapel Hill, the Carolina Times from May 1937 to December 1982, covering most of Austin’s tenure, is digitized and available online. )
Louis Austin endured harassment, ridicule and threats. The Ku Klux Klan burned a cross on his front lawn. Nonetheless, “Austin continued to write,” Myers wrote.
He operated the paper for many years – probably most years – on a shoestring. Myers recalled staff members so dedicated to Austin and the paper that they kept working even through weeks when they might be paid half their salary, or no salary at all.
Louis Austin stands among the giants of social activism in Durham, and the history grove - which joins 10 others in the history museum’s imaginative commemoration of notable citizens – is a fitting honor.
Go and Do:
WHAT: History Grove Dedication
HONOREE: Louis E. Austin
WHEN: Saturday, June 10, 10 a.m.
WHERE: Solite Park, 4704 Fayetteville St.