People

So I came to the conclusion eventually that what makes these programs successful or not is people, the people who are running them, and that it’s not so much the program idea as it is the dedication and the resources and the skill, including the political skill, with which, with which these programs are run.” – Michael Brooks, Research Director North Carolina Fund

Just how much the North Carolina Fund accomplished in five short years, is a testament to the vision and dedication of the people involved in this organization. Beginning with the Volunteer program, continuing with its nurturing support of the 11 statewide community organizations, and today with successful spin-off organizations like MDC, Inc, the North Carolina Fund has introduced generations of individuals to the value of public service. 

In a one hour film, there is no way we could talk about even a small fraction of some of the individuals involved in the Fund or its community actions programs.  This page offers more information about the people that are included in the film, and about some of the key individuals we could not include due to time restraints.  To find out more, you can always consult the North Carolina Fund Collection at the Manuscript Department at UNC-CH.

The North Carolina Fund Board:

Terry Sanford - Governor of North Carolina 1960-64, Chairman of the Board of Directors for the North Carolina Fund

John Ehle - Although he considers himself primarily a writer, John Ehle has made profound contributions to North Carolina in a variety of programs designed to help people reach their potential. John Ehle celebrates human dignity and the significance of personal freedom. As a member of Governor Terry Sanford’s staff in the 1960s, he was the speech writer, but more importantly, the “idea man” and an integral part of the creation of the the North Carolina Fund, the North Carolina School of the Arts and the Governor’s School. Referring to Ehle, former governor Terry Sanford stated, “If I were to write a guidebook for new governors, one of my main suggestions would be that he find a novelist and put him on his staff.” 

On how Sanford decided he had to take a stand against poverty:

“But he said to me one day, “John, I go out to the schools and speak, and I tell the children they can become whatever they want to be in America.  And I’ve realized with some of these audiences, it’s just not true.”  So, I said, “You’ll have to change the speech, or change the state.”  He thought that was right.  Actually we changed both.”  – John Ehle, Interview 2004

Pete McKnight - In addition to editing The Observer from 1955 to 1976, Mr. McKnight was a leader in founding several institutions and organizations, including the University ofNorth Carolina at Charlotte, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission and theNorth CarolinaS chool of the Arts. Mr. McKnight’s NY Times Obituary

Ann Reynolds Forsyth was the daughter of Z. Smith Reynolds and a granddaughter of R.J. Reynolds. During her lifetime, she focused her attention on the problems of poverty and racism in the South. She was a founder and later president of the North Carolina Fund, created after Gov. Terry Sanford urged the state’s citizens to join the “war on poverty.” Forsyth also created the Stauffer Foundation, in honor of her mother, which sent more than 100 minority students to prestigious southern private academies. She also created the Awards Committee for Education (ACE). ACE provided scholarships for summer programs to high school students from Appalachia and those who were African American and Native American who scored in the top 1 and 2 percentiles on the California Achievement Test.

From a forthcoming book on the North Carolina Fund by James Leloudis and Robert Korstad:

John H. Wheeler – Wheeler was a leader in the large black community that had grown up around the city’s tobacco industry.  A native of Vance County, North Carolina, he spent his childhood in Atlanta and was educated atMorehouseCollege.  In 1929, with an honors degree in hand, he moved toDurham, which had become a black business center of such significance that it was often referred to as the “Black Wall Street.”  The city was home to the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, the largest black-owned business in the world, and the Mechanics and Farmers Bank, where Wheeler took his first job as a cashier.  By 1952, he had risen through ranks to become president of the bank, and over the next decade made into one of the most successful black financial institutions in the country.  During the late 1950s and early 60s, he played the role of racial provocateur.  As chairman of the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs, he gave voice to black demands—often couched in strident terms that opened up room for more traditional black leaders to negotiate compromise.  In 1960, Wheeler joined with Thurgood Marshall and Floyd McKissick as co-counsel for the plaintiffs in a law suit that challenged the Durham school board’s refusal to assign black students to white schools.  Wheeler also served on the executive committee of the Southern Regional Council from 1950 to 1964, at which time he was elected president.  The council was the South’s oldest and most influential interracial civil rights organization, and it gave Wheeler access to the nation’s white political establishment.  In 1961, President Kennedy appointed him to the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity.  Wheeler developed a close relationship with committee chairman, Vice President Lyndon Johnson, and in 1963 joined Johnson in drafting the civil rights bill that Kennedy sent to Congress in mid June.  A year later, Johnson signed the bill into law as the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

James A. Gray, Jr., a member of one of Winston-Salem’s wealthiest and most influential families.  His uncle, Bowman Gray, had taken the helm of the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company after its founder’s death in 1918, and his father, James A. Gray, Sr., served as company president and chairman of its board of directors.  From 1959 to 1963, the younger Gray had been the publisher of the Winston-Salem Journal, a newspaper whose politics were more conservative than McKnight’s Charlotte Observer.
Samuel E. Duncan, president of LivingstoneCollege, a private institution inSalisbury established in 1879 by the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.  Duncan received his B.A. degree from Livingstone and went on to earn an M.A. and Ph.D. in education fromCornellUniversity.  He served in the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction as Supervisor of Negro High Schools from 1946 until his return to his alma mater in 1958.  As president of Livingstone, Duncan developed close ties to Charlie Babcock and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, which in 1959 and 1960 contributed a total of $100,000 toward the construction of new dormitories.  Duncan’s membership on the Fund’s board of directors served a dual purpose.  As a lifelong member of the NAACP, he represented an older generation of civil rights leaders who, throughout the first half of the 20th century, had labored against great odds to temper the injustices of Jim Crow and to sustain a moral critique of racial segregation.  As a college president, he also provided a conduit to the students who, beginning with the Greensboro sit-ins of 1960, had given new momentum to the civil rights struggle.  Compared to his counterparts at publicly funded black campuses, Duncan had greater latitude to speak his mind on issues of race and poverty.

Thomas Pearsall, architect of the state’s response to Brown vs. Board of Education, represented large landholders in eastern North Carolina and centrists within the Democratic Party.  He would eventually distance himself from the Fund as it antipoverty projects began to encourage political organizing among black sharecroppers and laborers in his home town of Rocky Mount and in farming communities throughout eastern North Carolina. 

Wallace C. Murchison, a Wilmington attorney, knew George Esser from their time together at Harvard LawSchool and work with the Episcopal Church.  He worked for Terry Sanford in the 1960 campaign and later supported Richardson Preyer, his college classmate atPrinceton.  Murchison had a reputation as a racial moderate in a city with a horrific racial past.  In 1898, Democratic white supremacists had overthrown a biracial city government in the only successful coup d’état in American history.

J. Gerald Cowan, a retired senior vice president of Wachovia, one of the state’s leading banks, and former director of the Charlotte branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond lived in Asheville and represented western North Carolina.  Born in 1895, he was the oldest of the Fund’s directors.  He had worked briefly for the Emergency Relief Administration, a New Deal agency, from 1933 to ’35, and in the late 1950s served on a Ford Foundation-sponsored study commission on social and economic development inAppalachia. Cowan had also been a member of the state board of education from 1953 to ’61, and served on the  Board of Trustees Asheville-Biltmore College (later to becomeUniversity ofNorth Carolina Asheville)

A. Hollis Edens, former president of Duke University and executive director of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation.  Together with Charlie Babcock, they watched over the interests of theWinston-Salem philanthropies whose financial backing played a critical role in bringing the Fund into being.

Rosa May Blakeney Parker was Luther Hodges’ sister-in-law, a former high school principal, and an influential operative in the state Democratic Party.  As a member of the board of trustees of the Consolidated University of North Carolina, she provided a link to the state’s leading publicly funded white colleges, including her alma mater, the
University ofNorth Carolina at Greensboro (formerly Women’s College),North CarolinaStateUniversity in Raleigh, and the flagship campus atChapel Hill.

Hargrove “Skipper” Bowles, Jr. was an influential Democratic politician and businessman, based in Greensboro, North Carolina. In the early 1960s Bowles served as Governor Terry Sanford’s Secretary of Conservation and Development, a post which would later become known as Secretary of Commerce. Afterwards, Bowles was elected to one term in the North Carolina House of Representatives and two terms in the North Carolina Senate.

In 1972 Bowles won the Democratic nomination for Governor of North Carolina but lost the general election to James Holshouser. Thus, he became the first Democratic nominee to lose the North Carolina gubernatorial race in the twentieth century. Bowles later became known for his service to and fundraising for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, from which he graduated in 1941. He died in 1986 from complications of Lou Gehrig’s disease.

W. Dallas Herring rounded out the board.  Herring had served on the Pearsall Commission and chaired the State Board of Education from 1957 to 1977.  During the late 1950s and early ’60s, he played an influential role in establishing North Carolina’s system of two-year community colleges.  Despite opposition from Luther Hodges and others who disapproved of his populist approach, Herring succeeded in requiring that the new schools offer comprehensive curricula, so that students might add to their vocational training more traditional instruction in the liberal arts.

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