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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with L. M. Wright Jr., April 1, 1974. Interview A-0333-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Role of African American political and business leaders

Wright talks about the role of key African American political figures and business leaders in the local politics of Charlotte during the 1960s into the early 1970s. Specifically, he focuses on the actions of Fred Alexander, Reginald Hawkins, Kelly Alexander, and Phil Berry. Throughout, he discusses the role of black precincts and political alliances.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with L. M. Wright Jr., April 1, 1974. Interview A-0333-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

We were talking to some extent about neighborhoods, some of the organizations. What types of organizations are there in the black community? I've seen some references in the early period to some city organizations. The two names most prominent in that early period were, of course, Fred Alexander and Reginald Hawkins. Is there an on-going political voting organization? Where does Fred Alexander fit into all of this?
L. M. WRIGHT, JR.:
Dr. Hawkins had essentially a political base in the black community. Based primarily on his ability to control two or three solidly Democratic precincts. In Charlotte, I think it's fair to say that his political base, so far as voting strength is concerned, never really extended beyond that. Now, he was an activist in a number of the marches, various kinds of demonstrations, most of which in Charlotte were very peaceful, you know, desegregating the Belk's and Ivey's lunch counters, theaters and things of that sort and all. fairly calm protests kind of context. I think his later efforts, particularly from '68 on, when he ran for governor and tried in some fashion to transfer some of that political activity into some sort of statewide activity fell pretty flat. In fact, the pattern of that voting was that he did not carry a majority of the black precincts in North Carolina. Pretty well ended, perhaps not altogether, because things never have neat endings, you know, but I think pretty well ended any deep involvement that he had with the community. Kelly Alexander…old line NAACP. Been there all his life, his father before him, Fred's brother Kelly works at the funeral home and does part-time NAACP type political work and then Fred, who also has an interest in that funeral home and works as the manager of the Double Oaks Housing Project up there, which incidentally is owned by C.D. Spangler who is now on the School Board, uses that as one kind of job and then takes the money he gets out of the funeral home and uses that in his political campaigns.
WILLIAM MOYE:
So, the funeral home is sort of the thing that supports…
L. M. WRIGHT, JR.:
Right, yes. And they've used that combination very effectively over the years. Fred has the best single shot voting organization that I've ever seen in my life. You can trace those precincts down through there and just take ten minutes to analyze the voting return and see…
WILLIAM MOYE:
He's not been able to transfer that, say in his senate primary?
L. M. WRIGHT, JR.:
No. Because he is then going on a county wide basis at first, and now that they have changed that senate district to include Cabarrus County, and he is just totally unknown over there. That had a predictable outcome. He could not carry a county wide vote. He does it by getting single shot votes out of the black precincts and then by carrying just enough of the liberal white vote, particularly, he always runs well in Myers Park and does very well. You can go and look at the Myers Park Elementary School district and the high school precinct over there, or the one around Christ Episcopal Church on Providence Road, the old Precinct Number One down at Westminster Presbyterian on Randolph and Colville Road, and Fred will always run third or fourth in there, even, you know, with a guy who lives in that precinct. And that's just enough to kick it over. He was able, over the years, to tip it to the point that, not this last time, but the time before that, he led the ticket came in as mayor pro tem, much to the chagrin of Jim Whittington, who always prided himself on being the mayor pro tem and being the biggest vote getter. So, this time, it was predictable that Fred wouldn't and Jim would get out there and cross Fred with just enough single-shot votes in some of Jim's old North Charlotte precincts to see that he got it.
WILLIAM MOYE:
Well, what happens then, is it that's on the School Board…
L. M. WRIGHT, JR.:
Phil Berry is the black member of the School Board.
WILLIAM MOYE:
Is there a different pattern, I mean, does he fit in with this same sort of old line group or is he…
L. M. WRIGHT, JR.:
No, no. Phil Berry is, I don't know, 35, under 40, was a vice-president of NCNB and left NCNB to join the Farmers and Mechanics Bank which is making a good strong bid for business in Charlotte, now. No, he's the young black executive on the way up. He would draw the same votes, but because Fred and Kelly and folks like that would tend to support him.
WILLIAM MOYE:
Your comment about how well Alexander and, I reckon, Perry would run in Myers Park, I remember reading, I forgot what it was, the phrase something about, "Charlotte believes in the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man and the neighborhood of Myers Park." Is that still as true as…
L. M. WRIGHT, JR.:
Yes, in a lot of ways. The Myers Park section, I think it's fair to say, contains 90% of the old Charlotte families and probably 50% or more of the really rich young families in that town.