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