John Hervey Wheeler, Black Banking, and the Economic Struggle for Civil Rights

John Hervey Wheeler, Black Banking, and the Economic Struggle for Civil Rights

Brandon K. Winford

Print publication date: 2020

ISBN: 9780813178257

Publisher: University Press of Kentucky


This work combines black business and civil rights history to explain how economic concerns shaped the goals and objectives of the black freedom struggle. Brandon K. Winford examines the “black business activism” of banker and civil rights lawyer John Hervey Wheeler (1908–1978). Born on the campus of Kittrell College in Vance County, North Carolina, he came of age in Jim Crow Atlanta, Georgia, where his father became an executive with the world-renowned North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company (NC Mutual). As president of Mechanics and Farmers Bank (M&F Bank), located on Durham’s “Black Wall Street,” Wheeler became the Tar Heel State’s most influential black power broker and among the top civil rights figures in the South. Winford places Wheeler at the center of his narrative to understand how black business leaders tackled civil rights while continuously pointing to the economy’s larger significance for the success and advancement of the postwar New South. In this way, Wheeler articulated a bold vision of regional prosperity, grounded in full citizenship and economic power for black people. He reminded the white South that its future was inextricably linked to the plight of black southerners. He spent his entire career trying to fulfill these ideals through his institutional and organizational affiliations, as part and parcel of his civil rights agenda. Winford draws on previously unexamined primary and secondary sources, including newspapers, business records, FBI reports, personal papers, financial statements, presidential files, legal documents, oral histories, and organizational and institutional records.