When one thinks of the Civil Rights era, it’s usually a black and white issue. North Carolina, however, was one of the few states labeled tri-racial. There were three school systems, three seating areas, and three water fountains. Descended from the Tuscarora tribe and member of the North Carolina Coharie Tribe, Hughie Maynor’s family and ancestorial roots historically date back to before 1712. But during the years leading up to the Civil Rights Movement, he faced hardship and adversity, from extreme poverty to tri-segregated schools. When he was 13 years old, he helped organize and participate in North Carolina’s first Native American Sit-In protest in 1960 that took his fight all the way to the federal courts.
Civil Rights: No Accommodations for Indians
Life in the small town of Dunn, North Carolina in 1960 was like any other Southern, segregated town during the Jim Crow era. For decades, residents lived separate public lives based on whether they were Caucasian, African American, or Native American. Schools, restaurants, and theaters were divided based on their race. Growing up in a segregated society seems strange nowadays, but Hughie Maynor was impacted by racial discrimination at every turn. In some ways, being Native American was even more of a struggle than being African American.
“They wouldn’t let us go to the theater, Hughie explains, For a while, the Dunn Stewart Theater had an upstairs and downstairs. The upstairs was for the blacks and the downstairs was for the white folks. We went to the movies and sat downstairs for a couple of years and then one day, we walked up there and there was a sign hanging up there at the ticket booth: No Accommodations for Indians. They wouldn’t let you go upstairs or downstairs. And that went on for a couple of years.“
“One night somebody threw a brick through the window of the movie theater. Uncle Junior went down to the Stewart Theater and he talked to a guy named Bill Yates who managed the theater. Me and Junior went up to Yates’s office to talk to him as to why it was we couldn’t go to the theater. I don’t remember what his excuse was, but they still would not let us go to the movies.“
“All over everywhere, they had a black and white bathroom but no places for the Indians.”
“We went to the white bathrooms at places we could go to. And that use to be like Norris Frozen Custard in Dunn, the Indians and blacks could go in and get food, but you had to stand at the end of the counter, you couldn’t sit down in there and eat it. You could get your food and order it, but you had to get your food and carry it back outside.“
“All the eating establishments were like that. The blacks did a sit-in at Sue’s diner. And I remember one day, there was a whole bunch of people standing outside. And I think two or three black people went in there and sat down. The man that owned it, he comes out waving his hands to try and get the white people to come in. He was saying, ‘Ya’ll come on in! Come on in and let’s get them out of here!’ And nobody wouldn’t go. They all just stood outside.“
The Sit-In Protest: Milkshakes and Jail
In 1954, the decision of Brown vs. Board of Education to desegregate schools set the pace of what was to follow in 1960, heavily impacting Hughie’s future. Though the Supreme Court handed down the decision, many Southern states and school districts resisted the change, using delaying tactics for years–sometimes decades. Although Dunn High School was a mere five miles from Hughie’s house, the Harnett County Board of Education refused admission, citing improperly filled out applications as an excuse. Instead, Hughie and many other students were going to be shuttled to East Carolina Indian School–36 miles away. This unjust 72-mile round trip caused some people to take the matter into their own hands.
On New Year’s Eve of 1959, bus driver Mr. Joseph H Brewington was knocked from his chair from a loud explosive blast that occurred outside his home. The school bus parked on his property, a symbol of racial inequality, was demolished in this now-historic bus bombing.
At the age of 13, Hughie was faced with the decision of accepting the ruling from the Board to ride along the 72-mile bus trip or protesting to help bring attention to the broken educational system in Harnett County for Native Americans. Proudly, he refused the assignment to East Carolina Indian School. After being denied admittance to the all-white Dunn High School several times, he, along with the parents and other students of the community decided to protest with their own sit-in demonstration.
On August 31, 1960, Hughie Maynor, along with Edward Chance, Edgar Chance, Stoney Chance, Helen Maynor, Henrietta Maynor, Emma Jean Chance, Juanita Chance and 13 other students arrived at Dunn High School as the 8:30 morning bell rang for the first day of school. Their mission was to simply arrive at school, pick a random classroom and take a seat peacefully and without incident. “We don’t want violence, but we want equal rights,” said Eugene Chance, leader of the Indian protest movement. The principal, Ophelia Matthews, called the children out of the classroom. She dictated they could leave peacefully or be removed by authorities.
The young high school students refused to leave. Their parents were called and interrogated by Police Chief Alton Cobb, who tried to persuade the parents to take their children home. When the students returned the next day, they were faced with a restraining order filed by the Harnett County Board of Education. During the week-long sit-in protest, the school officials were instructed by authorities and the Harnett County Board of Education to ignore the students when they arrived and not to allow them to participate in class discussions.
“When we got to the school that morning, the officers were talking through a bull horn. It was more of a scare tactic because they arrested all of us kids at one time. They told us if we step off this sidewalk onto school property we would be arrested. On the other side of the street there was so many folks it looked like a parade. There was so many people there to watch. We kids all looked at one another and we just spread out down the sidewalk about three or four feet apart. And as we spread out, a policeman was standing in front of each one of us. And somebody a student said, ‘Alright, let’s go!’ And the other students stepped off the sidewalk onto the dirt except me. The officers grabbed the students and started putting them in police cars. And there was this policeman standing in front of me. And he looked at me and asked me, ‘Son, what you going to do?’ I said, ‘I don’t know?“
“I turned around and started walking down the sidewalk and he started walking with me. So I took off running and he took off running. So I stopped real quick, and he ran past me and then I stepped off onto school property. So he got me and put me in the police car. There were three students in the backseat and one student in the front seat and he put me in the middle of the front seat, sitting next to the deputy. Everybody started out to Lillington. And I looked down and there was his blackjack sticking out. A blackjack was what they used to hit you in the head with, a billy stick. So I reached down and took it. And when I did, he went to try to take it from me and I passed it to the back seat. And he was driving down the road, reaching and trying to look to get his blackjack back. And figured he won’t going to get it back so he said, ‘Hey I want to make a deal with y’all. There’s restaurant down the road, if y’all give me my blackjack back and don’t give me no trouble, I will stop and buy everybody a milkshake.’ So we said, yeah, ok we’ll do that. So we gave him his blackjack back and the officer pulled into the restaurant.“
Yes, the police officer bought these protesting teenagers all milkshakes before taking them to jail.
“This is in the morning time now. He got out of the car and asked us all what kind of milkshake we wanted. He headed into the restaurant and stopped at the door realizing that he had left all the kids in the car by themselves. He came running back to the car and said, ‘Look ya’ll, I don’t want to lose my job and I don’t want to get in no trouble. I’m just doing this because I got to. Ya’ll do nothing and don’t get me in no trouble.‘”
“So the students agreed and told him they wouldn’t get him in no trouble. So he went in the restaurant and brought all of us something back. And we got to Lillington, they came marching in the courtroom with all of us young’uns. The judge went to beating his gavel and wanting to know what in the world was going on here! The judge told the officials, ‘Get these young’uns out of this courtroom and take them all back where you got them from until we can get this mess straightened out!’ And so they loaded us back up and carried us back over to the schoolhouse. The judge didn’t want us all in there and so from then on we all went to different places to go to school. There was this organization out of Raleigh they found places for the Indian students to go to school and live.“
A total of 21 students were arrested that day along with their parents. They were accused of violating a court order forbidding them from “engaging in sitting-in, picketing, trespassing or otherwise interfering with the normal operation” of the school. Judge W.H.S. Burgwyn of the Harnett Superior Court in Lillington directed the Dunn School Committee and the Harnett County Board of Education to appear at the hearing and stated he thought the whole affair something of “a tempest in a teapot” as he expresses the hope it could be settled amicably.
The American Friends Committee (AFSC) a Quaker organization that promotes peace with justice and respect for human life stepped in to help the students who refused to take the long 72-mile bus ride. The AFSC made arrangements to place the students throughout the State to live with families and to attend school until the court case was settled. Students were sent to Greensboro, High Point, and Raleigh. Hughie was sent to Cathedral Catholic School in Raleigh, where he attended for about six to eight weeks.
Back home, parents were still fighting in court to have their children admitted to the all-white school. Contempt orders were issued against the parents for aiding, abetting and encouraging their minor children to defy the restraining order issued by Judge W.H.S. Burgwyn. State Senator, Robert Morgan and I. Beverly Lake were the attorneys who represented the Harnett County Board of Education. They argued that allowing the Indian students’ admittance would destroy the State’s student assignment plan and could result in integration attempts to be made by black students. Handy Groves, a shoe shop operator, stated, “ We’ve been asking for a high school since 1954. They have had plenty of time to build us a school. We’re taxpayers and we’re going to continue this fight. We either want to get the students admitted to Dunn school or get school facilities provided for them now nearby. We don’t intend to send our children to Sampson County.“
The Dunn Chamber held a public meeting to address the overwhelming negative responses they had received from national attention. Parents of the students obtained legal representation from Joe Tally, Jr. & Nelson W. Taylor of Fayetteville who filed a legal injunction against the Board. Their argument was that the Board’s decision was unconstitutional and their equal rights to education had been violated. The county cannot provide a school for some children and not for others. By late October, the Federal Judge Albert Reeves issued an order restraining the Harnett County Board of Education from assigning the students outside the county and issued a dismissal of the restraining order against the students.
“Yeah, it took years of the whole ordeal, says Hughie Maynor. “And you know a lot of our people looked up to some of our county and state leaders. But I still have resentment towards some of them like Robert Morgan, he fought real hard to keep us out of Dunn High School. Dr. I. Beverly Lake and Glenn T. Profit, who also fought real hard against us. They all worked for the board of education. The community said they were outstanding citizens and all this stuff, but it’s according to which way you look at it.“
The decision also opened the door for members of the black community, which Hughie theorizes made the authorities nervous.
“The next year after all the court cases, they said they would let us register for school. And the next year, here come two black kids – Boisey Felder and Willis McCoy. They were first two black people to go to school at Dunn High School.“
Even the Indian community was divided on this issue. Some wanted to establish their own schools to preserve their heritage and culture. Hughie reminisces that he would have rather had his own school. But after all the struggles with the Board of Education, he graduated from Dunn High School.
Struggle Against Substandard Education
“My favorite teacher was Mr. A.B. Johnson. He taught social studies. He was just a good feller. Him and Mr. Joe Downing, who taught Agriculture. I like both of them a whole lot. Oh I won’t no genius. When I attended Maple Grove, there was mostly high school students that basically did the teaching. I made good grades. But when I went to school in Raleigh and then Dunn High School, if I made a C, I deserved a Pepsi and a pack of peanuts because I done something. It was a whole different ballgame. Because your background, you started out in an up to date school. My school, 1st through 8th grade, it was substandard. Used books and the quality of leadership was not like it was we got on up there at Dunn High School and Raleigh.“
“Oh yeah, we were way behind. They talked about stuff in the ninth grade I ain’t never heard of before…like in English and Math, everything. We were a good 15 years behind at least. But you know, all the students that I know of now that participated in the protest, we all did the ole ‘Don’t Give Up’ thing and most of us did pretty good.”
“There might have been a couple of them that dropped out, but most of us graduated. Edward Chance was the first Native American to graduate from Dunn High School. He was Stoney and Edgar’s brother. He was the oldest in the group.“
“Yes, once in a while there was a few students that would cause problems against minorities. I know they probably got it from home, that didn’t like us. Just bite your tongue and try to ignore it. Be the better person. There was a couple of times I had fights, but nothing real bad. I had one fight with a feller but after that we got along good.“
Wisdom From A Life Hard-Fought And Well-Lived
“Well, I reckon I would tell you get in school–and you don’t like it and it’s sort of demanding–but there’s two things about it. You pay your dues now or you’re certainly going to pay them later. If you don’t get your education, you will pay your dues.“
“Don’t Quit! Never Give Up! Like my mama always said, ‘As long as there is breath, there’s hope. Don’t quit!'”
After Hughie Maynor graduated from Dunn High School, he joined the Air Force and then went to work as an electrician at Erwin Mills.
He earned his electrical license, then went to work at Fort Bragg for the Public Works Department. He is now retired, married for 40 years, and has six children and 14 grandchildren. His fight for a better education opened the doors for others to follow.
Because of the color of his skin, he not only had to endure the challenges of going to an all-white school but also had to show others that he was also just as high-minded and high-thinking. At the time, he was just fighting for the right to go to school, not realizing the greater objective he was creating for others to follow.
After more than 50 years, The Dunn Area History Museum invited the Maynor Family to their grand opening to honor the Native American families in the community. The Harnett County Coharie Tribe donated a beautiful handmade quilt in the background which was handstitched with all the Native American family names. The Maynor family was honored to be a part of this community event. Seeing photos of his parents, Viola and Paul Brewington hanging in the museum representing Native American families that lived and grew up in Dunn, NC was overwhelming. The family would have never dreamed of this day happening!
Native American civil rights are under-reported. Stories like my Dad’s need to be told to carry on to motivate and educate younger Native American generations of how important their heritage and culture is and the injustices that our parents struggled against so that we could have the civil right of a better education.
By Hope Thompson
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