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A North Carolina Black Banker Turned Civil Rights Leader

Sign reading "Mechanics and Farmers Bank Established 1908."
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 Lawon Monday, Feb. 10 at 12:30 p.m.

Josie Taris left her home in Fayetteville in 2014 to study journalism at Northwestern University. There, she took a class called Journalism of Empathy and found her passion in audio storytelling. She hopes every story she produces challenges the audience's preconceptions of the world. After spending the summer of 2018 working in communications for a Chicago nonprofit, she decided to come home to work for the station she grew up listening to. When she's not working, Josie is likely rooting for the Chicago Cubs or petting every dog she passes on the street.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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