Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Jerry Gershenhorn's "Louis Austin and the Carolina Times"

Jerry Gershenhorn is Julius L. Chambers Professor of History at North Carolina Central University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Louis Austin and the Carolina Times: A Life in the Long Black Freedom Struggle, and reported the following:
Based in Durham, North Carolina, Louis Austin, the courageous editor and publisher of the black news weekly, The Carolina Times, fought against the oppression and segregation of African Americans from the late 1920s to the early 1970s. In my book, I argue that the civil rights struggle predated the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, which in many narratives is considered the start of the movement. I also emphasize the critical role played by the black press in this long struggle. In North Carolina, Louis Austin published the most important black newspaper in the state from 1927 to 1971, using that paper to fight for racial justice. In doing so, he regularly attacked anyone who blocked African Americans’ path toward racial justice.

On page 99 of my book, I discuss Austin’s agitation for integration of higher education in North Carolina during the early 1950s. The background for this section was a successful 1951 NAACP lawsuit that compelled the desegregation of the law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), based on the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Although white educational officials complied with the court decision and admitted several black students to the university’s law school, these same officials sought to restrict the number of black students entering UNC. One tactic employed by white officials was to create a doctoral program in education at a nearby public black college, North Carolina College at Durham (NCC), so that black students who sought a graduate degree in education, which was in great demand, would not apply to UNC. On page 99, I explain how black educators and black activists, including Austin, opposed the new doctoral program because its purpose was to perpetuate racial segregation: “Austin published a front-page editorial opposing the PhD program.... Moreover, Austin pointed out that NCC’s budget was too small to finance a PhD program, noting that NCC’s existing undergraduate programs were woefully underfunded.”

Despite black opposition, UNC officials used their power to force the black college to accept the new program. At that time black state colleges in North Carolina had majority-white trustee boards. I write, “At the July 1951 emergency meeting of the UNC Board of Trustees, NCC officials were told to ask its board of trustees to support a two-year request for $100,000 per year to enhance graduate study and to establish a PhD program in education.... The majority-white NCC board approved the PhD program by a vote of seven to two, with only the two black board members present at the meeting opposing the program.” The Carolina Times called the program a “fire-sale priced, segregated PhD program,” and added, “UNC and state education officials chuckled in their beards at their latest success in halting the movement of integrated education.” Nonetheless, Austin and other black activists continued to fight for the integration of public education, and, in 1955, following the Brown v. Board of Education decision, NAACP and local Durham lawyers succeeded in forcing UNC to desegregate its undergraduate programs.
Learn more about Louis Austin and the Carolina Times at The University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue