Thursday, 11 February 2021 12:09

EDITORIAL: Notable Richmond County African Americans deserve recognition

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As we approach the middle of Black History Month, it’s important to think of the accomplishments of Richmond County’s notable African Americans.


From humble beginnings in this rural area, some either achieved stardom in their respective fields, became notable firsts or kept their contributions close to home.

One of the most well-known county natives is jazz legend John Coltrane, who was born in Hamlet in 1926. Although he grew up in High Point before going on to become a legendary saxophonist and composer, his local ties are commemorated with a state historical marker, a downtown mural and mini-museum, the John Coltrane Blueroom.

Another musician worth mentioning is bluesman Blind Boy Fuller. Born in Anson County, he moved following the death of his mother to Rockingham, where he began playing on the streets as a teenager. Fuller recorded more than 130 tracks before dying in his early 30s.

Anna Short Harrington, like Fuller, was not born in Richmond County, but spent her youth here before eventually going on to portray Aunt Jemima for the breakfast brand. Quaker Oats last year announced it was retiring the familiar image “to make progress toward racial equality.”

Richmond County has also spawned several sports stars, including Perry Williams, Dannell Ellerbe and Melvin Ingram.

Hamlet-born Frederick Branch made history in 1945 as the first African American to be commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Former physicians Dr. Fred McQueen and Wendell Wells, both served in the military — McQueen with the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army and Wells as a Navy pilot.

Wells passed away in 2020 and McQueen, who served as local president of the NAACP for more than 30 years, recently retired.

Another veteran, Ellerbe native Henry Frye, went on to become one of the first African American U.S. attorneys in the south, as well as the first African American elected to the N.C. House of Representatives in the 20th century and to serve as chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court.

The man who first registered Frye to vote, J.C. Watkins, has, in his own right, made important contributions to Richmond County in the areas of both education and civil rights, along with his late wife, Ruth, who passed away on Feb. 6.

The aforementioned residents, and others, have been or will be highlighted this month on the Visit Richmond County Facebook page.

While many of their accomplishments broke racial barriers, they should, to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., be recognized not for the color of their skin, but for the content of their character by everyone in Richmond County.