John Hervey Wheeler, Black Banking, and the Economic Struggle for Civil Rights
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
John Hervey Wheeler (1908--1978) was one of the civil rights movement's most influential leaders. In articulating a bold vision of regional prosperity grounded in full citizenship and economic power for African Americans, this banker, lawyer, and visionary would play a key role in the fight for racial and economic equality throughout North Carolina.
Utilizing previously unexamined sources from the John Hervey Wheeler Collection at the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library, this biography explores the black freedom struggle through the life of North Carolina's most influential black power broker. After graduating from Morehouse College, Wheeler returned to Durham and began a decades-long career at Mechanics and Farmers (M&F) Bank. He started as a teller and rose to become bank president in 1952. In 1961, President Kennedy appointed Wheeler to the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, a position in which he championed equal rights for African Americans and worked with Vice President Johnson to draft civil rights legislation. One of the first blacks to attain a high position in the state's Democratic Party, Wheeler became the state party's treasurer in 1968, and then its financial director.
Wheeler urged North Carolina's white financial advisors to steer the region toward the end of Jim Crow segregation for economic reasons. Straddling the line between confrontation and negotiation, Wheeler pushed for increased economic opportunity for African Americans while reminding the white South that its future was linked to the plight of black southerners.
"This informative work chronicles the life of one of the unsung titans of the civil rights period and casts new light on the dynamic role this banker, activist, and humanitarian played in the middle of the twentieth century. A much-needed and insightful contribution to the historiography of the black freedom struggle, both in North Carolina and the region, this volume illuminates the still-underanalyzed relationship between black economic institutions, larger mainstream economic structures, and the evolution of black freedom in the nation." -- Charles W. McKinney Jr., co-editor of An Unseen Light: Black Struggles for Freedom in Memphis, Tennessee
"Brandon K. Winford's impressive biography brilliantly places banker and attorney John Hervey Wheeler at the center of the long black freedom struggle in North Carolina. Meticulously researched, this outstanding work of scholarship makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the history of black business and the civil rights movement and should be required reading for students of both subjects." -- Jerry Gershenhorn, author of Louis Austin and the Carolina Times : A Life in the Long Black Freedom Struggle
"This is a great book about a great man who, through mentoring and sponsoring me early in my career, is largely responsible for whatever success I have in my life. And I am one of many, black and white, who were instructed and inspired by John Hervey Wheeler's extraordinary life of leadership and service." -- Vernon E. Jordan Jr., former president of the National Urban League and adviser to President Bill Clinton
- Lillian Smith Book Awards