FOR THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
C. Rudolph Knight
The NAACP, one of the oldest and most influential civil rights organizations in the United States, was formed in 1909 by W. E. B. Du Bois and others with a mission "to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination." The charter for the Edgecombe County Branch was approved October 13, 1942, by the national office with initial officers William H. Parker (undertaker), President; Orren M. James (minister), Vice-President; Mrs. Nan W. Bryant (teacher), Secretary; and W. A. Pattillo (school principal), Treasurer.
William H. Parker was born and reared in Tarboro, NC, and as an adult operated the Tarboro Funeral Home after graduating from Virginia Union University and the McAlister School of Embalming in New York City. Orren M. James was a merchant with a prosperous business in Princeville, NC. He was one of the first commissioners on the Princeville Board of Commissioners along with Turner Prince and Milton Pittman, the first Princeville Mayor.
Nannie Waddell Bryant was the wife of Joseph Turner Bryant and a public school teacher at the W. A. Pattillo High School. She held degrees from St. Augustine’s College and Fayetteville State Unversity. W. A. Pattillo was the Principal of the W. A. Pattillo High School from 1924 to 1946.
Other founding members were Miss Fannie O. Bridgers (teacher), Mrs. Helen T. Parker (teacher), Mrs. Pearl W. Bennett (teacher), Troy E. Lassiter (carpenter’s helper), Miss Lois M. McNeill (teacher), David S. Hall (business man), F. D. Wharton (farm agent), George R. Fields (grocer), Abner Norfleet (railroad porter), Nelson K. Dunn (minister), Robert Walston (carpenter), Herbert Forrest (carpenter), Joseph R. Ervin (carpenter), Bennie Pitt (laborer), Mrs. Sarah B. Pitt (teacher), Nathan Pitt (laborer), William E. Shields (laborer), Jessie M. Wilson (for hire truck), Mansfield W. Mattherson (carpenter), Mrs. Callie H. Smith (hair dresser), C. M. Dancy (grocer), Miss Helen A. Walston (teacher), James Bennett (cement finisher), Mrs. Mazie A. Jones (nurse), William Foster (insurance agent), Mrs. Lucy M. Dunn (teacher), Mrs. B. H. Summerville (teacher), C. H. Hilliard (barber shop), Mrs. Belle Williams (grocer), I. H. Hilliard (presser), Mrs. Emma O. Jones (teacher), Mrs. Beatrice G. Burnett (teacher), Mrs. Etta W. James (teacher), Harvey R. Taylor (pharmacist), Mrs. Geneva Burke (librarian), Mrs. Minnie G. Woodley (teacher), Miss Laura R. Hammonds (teacher), Alfred Pitts (teacher), Mrs. Louella Dickens (teacher), George D. Hawkins (teacher), Mrs. Olive S. Bridgers (teacher), Mrs. Willie F. Jones (teacher), J. B. Adams (minister), Miss Eula M. Bryan (teacher), Mrs. Mamie F. Forrest (teacher), Mrs. Lulalia Lewis (teacher), Mrs. Ruth M. Garnes (teacher), Mrs. Corinne Lassiter (teacher), and Mrs. Gladys Matthewson (hair dresser).
Although listed simply as a member, Beatrice Garrett Burnette was key to the establishment of the NAACP Edgecombe County Branch and to its subsequent growth. For years, she was active in the organization, urging blacks and women to register and to vote.
Ms. Burnette was one of the women interviewed by Emily Herring Wilson for her book Hope and Dignity: Older Black Women of the South. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983). In it, Burnette was quoted and described as follows:
My father often said, ‘You’re as good as anybody else. I’m as good as the President. The President has one vote, and I have one vote.’ And that’s the philosophy we were brought up under. I’m telling you, … I have never taken low either.
During the time she was teaching and coaching, Mrs. Burnett was active in the NAACP, serving as president of the Tarboro chapter for seventeen years and holding state and national offices. It was her organization of the first Youth Council in 1948, however, which gives her the greatest satisfaction. “And it has gone without stopping,” she says. “I’d take them to the State Conference or take them to the national conference, or they’d take themselves because the children would raise their own money. And we carried the voter registration program almost entirely since ’58. There had never been more than four hundred blacks registered and now there are over two thousand. [In 1981 records show there are 6,139 registered black voters in Edgecombe County.] These kids are largely responsible. They sat down and mapped the whole town out, every street in our section. We had set up for the election in ’48 when Truman, Dewey, and Henry Wallace ran. We assigned the children to represent the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and the Progressive Party. And they did research on it, and they gave a town discussion. The Mayor came—of course he didn’t stay but a hot minute—he said he just came to express his appreciation that we have young people interested.”
Other chapter presidents through the years were Moses A. Ray, Rita Ricks, Shirley Mayes, Bobbie Jones, and Yolanda Thigpen.
C. Rudolph Knight is a Tarboro native, a retired community college educator, and a research historian.