Friday, June 25, 2010


Yesterday I spent some time in the State Library of North Carolina looking at microfilm of back issues of The Raleigh News and Observer. As I scanned the newspaper pages from 1941, I was struck by something odd. The headline of every story involving someone black included "Negro" in the headline. Headlines for stories involving whites did not indicate that the subjects of those articles were white.

I read sports stories with the first word of the headline reading, "Negro." The headline for auto accident reports began with the word "Negro." Even obituaries identified the deceased as "Negro."

I am still trying to understand why the N&O staff felt the need to indicate when a news story was about a black person. Was this to warn white readers that they could skip the story? Or, was it a way to notify black readers that there was some news about them in that issue? Today I can not understand the relevance of identifying stories about a black person.

This was the world Invisible Warriors fought to change. I was in the library looking for information about Randolph Williamson. Williamson was a Raleigh, North Carolina native who was killed onboard USS Arizona during the December 7, 1941 surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. I believe Williamson was probably one of the first black men killed in the war and certainly the first black man from North Carolina.

Now 69 years after December 7, 1941 I sit here in my comfortable townhouse, typing away on my laptop and enjoying a comfortable middle class life thanks to men such as Williamson. This morning when I read my morning paper, the N&O none of the headlines identified race in headlines. Things really have changed.
Copyright © Sharon D. Powell, 2010 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Yesterday I attended the funeral of a family friend. Jack Wiggins, who was 92 when he died, had been a family friend for as long as I could remember. He was also an invisible warrior (black men and women who served during World War II). When I started working on my book, I drove 50 miles from my home in Raleigh North Carolina to his home in Nash County. When I got to the house I knocked several times, but no one answered. I later learned Mr. Jack, as we knew him, no longer lived in the aging, clapboard house he had lived in when I was a child. He had moved into a mobile home behind the house. That was two years ago. I planned to go back to interview Mr. Jack but never found the time – now I have lost my chance to interview him. Another warrior has taken his story to the grave.

After the funeral, I talked to Mr. Jack's son and his younger brother, but neither could give me much information about this warrior's service. His son, Toby did remember his father mentioning that the father had been a truck driver in the Army. Toby also believed his father served in Europe. I went to and found Mr. Jack's enlistment information. In 1942, Mr. Jack received his draft notice; he enlisted in the Army on April 30, 1942. As a truck driver he was probably assigned to a quartermaster unit. He may have been a part of the Red Ball Express: one of World War II's most massive logisitics operations, namely a fleet of over 6,000 trucks and trailers that delivered over 412,000 tons of ammunition, food, and fuel (and then some!) to the Allied armies in the ETO between August 25 and November 16, 1944, Or he may have been a truck driver in Italy where my uncle drove trucks.

I do not know how Mr. Jack felt about serving his country. I imagine he faced the same racism other warriors faced. I have no way of knowing how Mr. Jack handled serving in a segregated army. He grew up in North Carolina and probably had personal knowledge of bigotry. Still he fulfilled his commitment to his country, came home to his wife and child and went to work on my family's farm. My parents and the Wiggins quickly became close friends.

I remember Mr. Jack as a very handsome, gentle, and understanding man. His wife, Betty Blanche, who died in 1975, had been one my mother's closest friends. In my mother's later life Mama and Mr. Jack, the widow and widower spoke by telephone twice a day. My siblings and I were indebted to him for his friendship with our mother in her later years.

Now this warrior is at peace. I never got the chance to thank him for his service or his friendship with my mother. As an Army soldier folded the flag from Mr. Jack's coffin, and a bugler blew taps I stood at attention and rendered a salute. Then I silently mouthed, 'Thank you Mr. Jack for paving the way for me to serve my country.'

The men and women of the greatest generation have passed the baton to my generation and they a taking their well deserved rest.
Copyright © Sharon D. Powell, 2010 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED