A North Carolina Black Banker Turned Civil Rights Leader

Feb 7, 2020

After moving to Durham in 1929, John Hervey Wheeler got an entry level job at M&F Bank. He moved up through the ranks to become the bank's president by 1952.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks are iconic figures in the country’s Civil Rights Movement. But who led the charge in North Carolina? The prominent, but little-known black banker John Hervey Wheeler played a large role.

Wheeler moved to Durham in 1929, just before the Great Depression, and rose through the ranks to become the president of Mechanics and Farmers Bank, one of the largest black banks in the country. He opened up credit and lending opportunities to black people, promoting economic equality for African Americans in the state and nationwide.

Wheeler is profiled in the new biography: “John Hervey Wheeler, Black Banking, and the Economic Struggle for Civil Rights,” (University Press of Kentucky/2020) by Brandon Winford, an assistant professor in the Department of History at University of Tennessee. Host Frank Stasio talks with Winford about Wheeler’s legacy as an indirect civil rights leader and why he is not a household name. Winford will talk about his book at the Museum of Durham History on Friday, Feb. 7 at 6 p.m. and at Duke University School of Law on Monday, Feb. 10 at 12:30 p.m.