Accelerating civil rights activism over a ministerial career
When Finlator arrived at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1956, he had already gained the ire of some of his fellow ministers with his activity on behalf of progressive causes. He increased his civil rights activism in the years that followed, demonstrating with civil rights marchers in Raleigh.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with William W. Finlator, April 19, 1985. Interview C-0007. 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
- JAY JENKINS:
When you came to Pullen in 1956, were you already active in civil rights
matters, at that time?
- WILLIAM W. FINLATOR:
Well, not as pronounced Jay, as I was at Pullen. But I had run afoul some
of the members of our churches in former years because of my concerns
about poor people, about the migrants over in the eastern part of the
state, about black people in general. And I had run
into some difficulty with identifying with the laboring people in
Elizabeth City during a strike. And incidentally the man who was the
manager of the industry—where some of the people were
striking and trying to form a union—was a member of the
church. And that was a very delicate situation. But all of this was
inchoate, it was in the making even in the very first church, but it was
accelerated a great deal after coming to Pullen Memorial where the
pulpit was traditionally a free pulpit—something I did not
make but that I inherited.
- JAY JENKINS:
In the 1950s we had desegregation in North Carolina, special legislative
session and so forth and so on. What are your recollections of your
activities roughly in that era?
- WILLIAM W. FINLATOR:
Well, along about that time I was a member, of the North Carolina
Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. And we were
forced to take action and we regarded that as our proper concern. And so
through that committee (of which I later became chairman), I became
active. There were times when we supported the protests, the vigils. And
incidentally I was pleased with the marches down Fayetteville Street,
for example, here in Raleigh, in which we were trying to get the old
S&W Cafeteria—which was down on one end of
Fayetteville Street, very close to Shaw University—to open up
to blacks, particularly Shaw students. And then we
were trying to get one of the major theatres downtown to integrate, and
two or three stores. And I actually was not a loner. A number of people
at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, such as Dr. H. M. Freeman, and
others, Larry Highfill, etc. were down there walking and demonstrating.
So I actually joined members of my congregation, which was to me a
thrilling thing: to be led by your own people.
There were organizational meetings held at Shaw University. And by that
time the blacks of North Carolina had accepted me into their fellowship.
From the very beginning of my ministry I made friends with black
ministers, and black superintendents of schools. They would have me in
their churches and their schools. Embarrassing, because in those days,
your own church would not allow them to come and preach but that did not
deter them from their kindness. I began to know black dentists and black
physicians and the NAACP began to allow me to be a part of its
activities. So when the civil rights movements came, I had a long
background of black contact and black friends.
And then when I was in Elizabeth City, 99% of the migrants who came
through in the spring to harvest the cabbage and the potatoes were
black. And I got contact with them through black ministers and other
leaders, so that I was greatly enriched with friends—close
friends—in the black community long
before the 1954 decision.