Civil Rights Stories Remembered
Seven powerful voices. With deep histories in Harnett. Seven separate life tracks, but each with a common foe: racism, discrimination, paths altered by the color of their skin.
Now senior citizens, these voices gathered at the Harnett Resource Center on Feb. 3 to speak out, to share, to remember hardships white people hadn’t endured. To tell their stories with pride, hope and the firm belief that speaking out was another way forward for themselves and others.
The venue was the second annual Civil Rights Stories Remembered, sponsored by the Harnett County Democratic Party and the Harnett chapter of the NAACP. The purpose was to gather recorded testimony of residents’ struggle for civil rights and the conditions they faced.
Among the speakers was Doris Olds, a sharecropper’s daughter born in Coats before she and her family relocated to Dunn.
“People would say if you moved to Dunn, you were done,” she recalled. “There were no jobs for us. If you got a job in a restaurant, you were the cook. If you got a job as a cook, you couldn’t go in to eat.”
She remembered going into a drug store that wouldn’t let black people sit on the stools. “You had to go to the end of the counter until someone asked what you wanted.” In other stores, the clerks would follow you around. “They thought you would steal something.”
She remembers the Klan shooting off shotguns and white kids who got to ride school buses while black kids had to walk.
Stanley Price, a retired school administrator, remembers rebel flags flying from school buildings and having to go to the back door of the restaurant in Erwin to get food.
“Sometimes we got it and sometimes we didn’t,” he said.
Effie Woodard, born and raised on the “west coast of Broadway,” grew up on a farm. She figured out early on to “stay quiet and learn,” a tactic that lead to her becoming the first black female to work in the Harnett County Clerk of Courts office. She retired as assistant clerk of courts after a 36-year career.
“I always had a get-along spirit so I wouldn’t get caught up in some (controversy). Cause I needed to work.”
That tactic still works today, she observed. “You may think you are useless in these all-white offices. But if you stay committed to what you’re doing, you can go a long way.”
Frances Harrington of Lillington took her struggle public, joining the civil rights movement in the 1960s to help make a difference. “I spent four days in jail in Dunn for protesting,” she recalled. “We were trained to be nonviolent. You had to stay humble and silent.”
That determination and her focus on education carried her to bachelor’s and master’s degrees and eventually a doctorate from Southern Illinois University.
Dr. Catherine Evans used that same determination, plus the advocacy of her no-nonsense military father, to earn a degree in dentistry from UNC. She attended in 1978 and was one of three African Americans in the dental program that had only integrated three years before. She went on to a storied career but not without scars she suffered in Harnett County Schools and at UNC.
“My parents taught me to advocate for myself,” she said. Self-reliance and “good notes” helped her figure a way to get the dental training she needed to pass her exams and secure a license. As a result, the little girl at Bowie Elementary, whose teachers ignored her and students cast racial slurs, went on to open a professional dental practice in Anderson Creek.
“Form relationships with people who have your best interests at heart,” she advised. “And get politically involved in your state and nation.”
Carson Bethea went from selling produce door to door that his parents grew on their truck farm to 40 years as a landscaper and eventual appointment to the Harnett County Board of Adjustment. It wasn’t easy growing up, he recalled. A bank in Dunn began charging unfair service fees. His mother, a determined woman with only a 10th grade education, marched into the bank and got things changed.
“Those kinds of steps teach you to deal with things,” Bethea said.
Walter Massey relied on his religious faith to help him deal with discrimination. “We learned to cope and survive,” he said. “There are no free lunches in life. There are opportunities but you have to work for them.”
Today he serves on the board of directors at Harnett Health and has been instrumental in starting the Police Athletic League in Dunn.
All seven speakers cited stubborn determination, optimism and an undercurrent of religious faith as keys to defeating unfairness thrust in their way. “Your endurance and commitment to civil rights gives you a future,” Effie Woodard reminded.
Moderator Dr. Rosa Smith agreed: “There is much to do,” she told the 60 people who attended Civil Rights Stories Remembered. “We must work, vote and advocate for those who are not served.”
Submitted by: Richard Chapman
Pictures By: Richard Chapman
2024 Civil Rights Honorees
Rebekah Brock, Chair of HCDP and Denise Thurman of
the Harnett County African American Heritage Center
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