The history of the civil rights movement in the town of Enfield is recognized by the State of North Carolina.
Historical markers recognizing the Halifax County Voters Movement, a grassroots civil rights organization based in the city, and Johnson v. Branch, a federal appeals court case that protected South African-American teachers involved in civil rights activism, was approved earlier this year. month by the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission.
The markers are part of the commission’s Civil Rights Trail initiative, which will place 50 markers across the state between 2021 and 2023 to recognize well-known and little-known civil rights efforts. Ten of the markers will be placed in Hometown Strong counties such as Halifax.
Rodney D. Pierce, an eighth-grade social studies professor at Red Oak Middle School who lives in Roanoke Rapids, asked for the markers earlier this year.
“Enfield was the epicenter of the civil rights movement in Halifax County,” Pierce said. “I am delighted that these markers have been approved by the commission and look forward to working more to recognize the African American history of northeastern North Carolina.”
Pierce added that he wanted to specifically thank the town of Enfield, in particular Commissioners Bobby Whitaker and Kenneth Ward and city administrator Tyree Davis. He also expressed his gratitude to Thomas Hardaway and Karla Solomon, both of whom own the properties the markers will be placed on.
The Halifax County Voters Movement was a multiracial advocacy group whose efforts – amid the local Ku Klux Klan and law enforcement intimidation – were aimed at increasing voter registration for the county’s Black and Native American populations, to ensure that black people sit on county juries and in the civil service; and end Jim Crow policies in local public establishments, including schools.
The HCVM has organized protests, boycotts, marches and worked with other civil rights organizations such as the Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF) and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to organize campaigns to voter registration.
The move spawned another federal lawsuit – Alston v. Butts – who ordered white county registrars to speed up their delayed registration process involving black people who wanted to register to vote.
“I feel like this further confirms the righteousness of our fight for our recognition as American citizens,” said Dr Willa Cofield, an Enfield native and a member of the HCVM.
Johnson v. Branch involved Cofield, then Willa Cofield Johnson, when she was a veteran English teacher at the then separated Thomas S. Inborden High School in the Halifax County School District. Johnson, her husband Reed Johnson and her family were all involved in the local civil rights movement, which made them a target.
She was terminated in June 1964 because her contract was not renewed by the all-white school board. The Branch portion of the lawsuit was named in honor of a native Enfield colleague and future Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Joseph Branch, counsel to the board of directors.
Cofield filed a federal lawsuit later that month which she first lost in June 1965. A year later, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in her favor. Cofield was supported in her lawsuit by the HCVM, SCEF and the National Education Association, who said her victory saved the jobs of thousands of black teachers in the South.
“It really affirmed the right of teachers to participate in protests and political movements,” Cofield said.
Although both of these markers are part of the NC African American Heritage Commission’s Civil Rights Trail program, Pierce had two markers unanimously approved by the State Highway Historical Marker Commission: the Louis Austin marker at Enfield was approved. in 2018; and the Keys v. Carolina Coach Company was approved in 2019.
The Austin marker was unveiled in June 2019 and the Keys marker will unveil on Roanoke Avenue at 2 p.m. on January 15, 2022.