A Brief History of the
North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus
The North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus (NCLBC) has a long and illustrious history, one that can be tied to the first African Americans to serve in the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) in 1868. Bolstered by the passage and Reconstruction-era enforcement of the 15th Amendment, their ranks grew to thirty-three members by 1883—nearly the size of today’s NCLBC. By 1900, African Americans were forced—through violence, intimidation, and disenfranchisement—out of their rightful positions in the houses of power. Jim Crow laws, literacy tests, and other barriers to the ballot kept African Americans out of the legislature until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the subsequent election of the Henry E. Frye to the House of Representatives in 1968. He was joined by Joy Joseph Johnson in 1971 and H. M. “Mickey” Michaux in 1973.
These men stood on the shoulders of many who spent the first half of the 20th century fighting for access to the ballot, equal treatment in housing and public accommodations, and equal access to educational opportunities; creating economies that allowed African American businesses to thrive; and bettering themselves through the establishment and continuation of schools, churches, and organizations. Historically Black educational institutions, including those that educated these men—North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina Central University, Shaw University, and Palmer Memorial Institute—were championed.
North Carolina’s African American communities and institutions shaped these men into a conciliator (Frye), a firebrand (Johnson), and a rebel (Michaux). Using their unique strengths, they formed a delegation to set priorities and pass legislation of importance to African Americans. In addition to a bill introduced by Frye in 1969 (passed in 1971) that improved minority economic development through the elimination of “unconscionable contracts or clauses in contracts,” the delegation passed legislation that ensured funding and services for sickle cell anemia in 1973 and saved the NCCU Law School from closure in 1976. The delegation also focused on ballot access, fair treatment of HBCUs, and housing.
The delegation, which had grown to six members by 1977, lost several members to appointments by the Hunt and Carter administrations. In 1981, there were again three African Americans in the House of Representatives: Kenneth Spaulding, Daniel T. Blue, and Melvin Creecy. Henry Frye moved to the Senate, and was the sole African American legislator in that body. They worked as a delegation to fight for a redistricting proposal that would strengthen the power of the African American vote. After this proposal was ordered by the courts, the number of African American legislators in the NCGA quadrupled.
African American legislators formed NCLBC as an unincorporated association in 1982, with Kenneth Spaulding as its first chair. They held weekend meetings and worked to “promote legislative policies and actions responsive to the needs of all North Carolinians, particularly African Americans, people of color, and other groups who face systemic disparities and treatment.” As with the 1973 delegation, they focused on access to the ballot, fair treatment of HBCUs, accessible and inclusive human services, housing, and minority economic development.
In 1984, NCLBC formally organized and affiliated with the national caucus. The Caucus held its First Annual Legislative Weekend in Raleigh in 1985. At the time of this conference, the Caucus was chaired by Daniel T. Blue and had sixteen members: Rep. Frank W. Balance, Rep. Howard C. Barnhill, Rep. Daniel T. Blue, Jr., Rep. C. Melvin Creecy, Rep. Chancy Rudolph Edwards, Rep. Milton F. Fitch, Jr., Rep. Herman C. Gist, Rep. C. B. Hauser, Sen. Ralph A. Hunt, Rep. Luther R. “Nick” Jeralds, Rep. Annie Brown Kennedy (the first African American woman to serve in the NCGA in 1979), Rep. Sidney A. Locks, Sen. William N. Martin, Rep. H. M. “Mickey” Michaux, Rep. James F. Richardson, and Sen. Melvin L. Watt. This, and subsequent, Legislative Weekends provided the NCLBC an opportunity to set an agenda and determine legislative priorities with support and input from the community. Through legislation and appropriations, the formalized NCLBC worked toward the fair treatment of HBCUs, minority economic development, judicial reform, improvements to Health and Human Services, ballot access, and housing.
Seeking a way to support African American college students through educational programs, scholarships, and internships, NCLBC established the North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, in 1986.
NCLBC has continued to grow and diversify since its founding. Jeanne Hopkins Lewis became the first African American woman to serve in the North Carolina Senate in 1993, and, at the start of her sixth term in office in 2005, Rep. Beverly Earle became the first woman to chair the NCLBC. As of 2018, thirty-seven NCLBC members of African American, Indian, and Asian-Indian heritage serve in the NCGA.
Today, the NCLBC is using fresh approaches to address new and rising challenges to voting rights, public education, and North Carolina’s HBCUs. The North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus continues to ensure a bright future for all of North Carolina’s citizens through its mission, legislative agenda, and charitable foundation, and is prepared to meet the needs of African Americans and other communities of color in the 21st century.