When: Sun., Nov. 10, 3-5 p.m. 2013
To historian Steve Channing, a cadre of mid-20th-century liberal North Carolina politicians were the state's "greatest generation." He's talking about Frank Porter Graham, William C. Friday and Terry Sanford, who worked hard to shape both the impression and the reality of North Carolina as a progessive oasis in the parched South.
Beginning this weekend, a weeklong 50th anniversary celebration will commemorate the historic North Carolina Fund, an independent nonprofit organization formed in 1963 by Sanford (who was then governor) to mitigate poverty and encourage desegregation across the state. As poverty worsened in North Carolina in the early 1960s, the fund was created as the first of its kind in the nation, with programs designed, organized and administered by local communities.
The contrast between that era's concern for the poor versus today is stark indeed, Channing acknowledges. "Our conservative friends have successfully sold the idea that the war on poverty was a failure ... just throwing money down a rathole," Channing says. "But Sanford said, 'We didn't lose the war. We abandoned the battlefield when the bombs started falling.'" Sanford was referring to the diversion of resources demanded by Vietnam, but those priorities linger today, Channing says: "It's somehow easier to try to fix problems 10,000 miles away than at home."
Still, the NC Fund was an inspiring effort. Its 50th anniversary is a reminder that there was a time when state politicians were willing to be ambitious and creative in attacking poverty.
Celebrations begin on Sunday with a screening of Change Comes Knocking: The NC Fund, which Channing co-produced with director Rebecca Cerese. It includes commentary by original fund activist organizers Howard Fuller and Ann Atwater. Monday, Fuller leads an intergenerational discussion about poverty and the role of activism. Tuesday, Fuller and a panel of community organizers take part in a discussion titled "Back to the Future: Race, Power and the N.C. Fund."
On Tuesday, Nov. 12, the Durham-based anti-poverty nonprofit MDC, which has its roots in the NC Fund, will host a lecture and panel discussion titled "Back to the Future: Race, Power, and the N.C. Fund." Duke University historian Robert Korstad will facilitate a discussion with Fuller and others in an event that begins at 3 p.m. To register, visit MDC's website.
On Thursday, Nov. 14, is an event geared toward Latino families, followed by another screening of Change Comes Knocking on Friday, Nov. 15, this time with comments from Gene Nichol, director of UNC's Center for Work, Poverty and Opportunity.
A march that retraces the 1963 "Silent March for Justice" brings things to a close on Saturday, Nov. 16. Participants will walk from Hayti Heritage Center to Corcoran Plaza, where prominent civil rights leader Ben Chavis—former executive director of the NAACP and the founder/CEO of the National African American Leadership Summit—will speak. —Mary Alta Feddeman