Louis Austin and the Carolina Times: A Life in the Long Black Freedom Struggle

Louis Austin and the Carolina Times: A Life in the Long Black Freedom Struggle

Louis Austin and the Carolina Times: A Life in the Long Black Freedom Struggle

Louis Austin and the Carolina Times: A Life in the Long Black Freedom Struggle

Synopsis

Louis Austin (1898-1971) came of age at the nadir of the Jim Crow era and became a transformative leader of the long black freedom struggle in North Carolina. From 1927 to 1971, he published and edited the Carolina Times, the preeminent black newspaper in the state. He used the power of the press to voice the anger of black Carolinians, and to turn that anger into action in a forty-year crusade for freedom.
In this biography, Jerry Gershenhorn chronicles Austin's career as a journalist and activist, highlighting his work during the Great Depression, World War II, and the postwar civil rights movement. Austin helped pioneer radical tactics during the Depression, including antisegregation lawsuits, boycotts of segregated movie theaters and white-owned stores that refused to hire black workers, and African American voting rights campaigns based on political participation in the Democratic Party. In examining Austin's life, Gershenhorn narrates the story of the long black freedom struggle in North Carolina from a new vantage point, shedding new light on the vitality of black protest and the black press in the twentieth century.

Excerpt

Our eternal goal must be equality. . . . We will teach it and thunder it from the
pulpit until every child achieves it.

—Louis Austin

In 1933, a young North Carolinian man named Thomas Raymond Hocutt dreamed of becoming a pharmacist. As he completed his undergraduate studies at Durham’s North Carolina College for Negroes, he was forced to reckon with the fact that only the all-white University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) housed a pharmacy program. At the very same time, three young civil rights activists, two attorneys and a journalist, were searching for a brave African American who would agree to challenge Jim Crow higher education. the attorneys were Conrad Pearson and Cecil McCoy, who practiced law in Durham. the journalist was thirty-five-year-old Louis Austin, editor of the Carolina Times, the black news weekly in Durham.

After Hocutt agreed to apply to unc, the four men drove from Durham to Chapel Hill to register the young man for the March quarter of classes. Austin introduced Hocutt to university registrar and dean of admissions Thomas Wilson: “This is Mr. Hocutt, a new student . . . who needs his class schedule and class assignment.” After the startled registrar recovered his composure, he denied Hocutt admission because of his race, and Pearson and McCoy filed suit in state court. in the short term, the case did not succeed. But these young men’s actions launched the NAACP’s (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) legal struggle that would culminate with the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, declaring that segregated public education was unconstitutional.

Louis Austin’s part in the Hocutt case was characteristic of his decadeslong role as a leader in the long black freedom struggle in North Carolina. Although he grew up in an era of bleak possibilities and grave dangers for blacks in the state, he courageously challenged racial injustice throughout his life. in 1898, the year of his birth, white supremacists murdered African Americans and violently overthrew the biracial government of Wilmington, North Carolina. Two years later, white Democrats amended the state’s constitution to disfranchise black voters. Nonetheless, by the time he drew his last breath . . .

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