Biographies from the 2005 Induction Ceremony Program.
Widely regarded as the parents of the civil rights movement in Raleigh, Ralph Campbell Sr. was born in 1915 and his wife, June, a decade later. This dynamic couple was a team in every sense of the word. Their first team effort came in the form of nurturing four exceptional children: Ralph Jr., Mildred, William (Bill) and Edwin. Their second was their dream of equal rights for all the citizens of Raleigh.
Ralph Sr. was a high-profile organizer and community leader serving as president of the Wake County Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association during the 1960s—a tumultuous time at the very heart of the civil rights struggle in this country. “Miz June”, as she was known, provided support, encouragement, and advice to the “Oval Table Gang,” a group of leaders who met nightly around her kitchen table to discuss strategy and generate support for African-American candidates for elected office. Braving regular threats of personal violence, intimidation, and great emotional distress, the group organized peaceful protests and brought to our community the great voices of the civil rights movement, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Ralph Sr. and June were examples to us all in practicing what they preached. Their leadership in integrating Raleigh’s public schools is embodied in the now famous News & Observer photograph of that fateful day in 1960 when June held the hand of her young son, Bill, as they entered Murphey Elementary School. “Hold your head up high and just count the steps,” she told her frightened son.
Their children have followed their parents’ example in public service. Bill was elected Mayor of Atlanta, Georgia, in 1993 and Ralph, Jr. became the first African-American to be elected to North Carolina’s Council of State in 1992 after having served on the Raleigh City Council.
Ralph Sr. passed away in 1983. He was joined by his beloved June in 2004, on her 79th birthday. Together they made a tremendous difference in the lives of Raleigh citizens who were too often overlooked. And by the way, the oval table from June’s kitchen now rests at the North Carolina Museum of History and serves as a reminder to us all that a few committed people can indeed change the world.
The excitement and tradition that is college basketball in North Carolina can be traced back to 1946 when Indiana native Everett Case signed on as head basketball coach at North Carolina State University.
Born at the turn of the 20th century, Case, a legendary high school coach in Indiana, had a vision of what college basketball could be and he brought that vision to Raleigh. Where others saw a partially built Reynolds Coliseum, Case saw an arena that would hold 12,500 fans. While others saw football as the major college sport, Case saw arenas full of cheering, loyal, rabid basketball fans.
At first, Case recruited out-of-state basketball players who knew the nuances of the game. Even so, he spent many hours visiting North Carolina high schools and civic clubs, encouraging cities and towns to build better gymnasiums, so North Carolina lads could eventually compete for college basketball slots. He wanted to see hoops tacked up on pine trees, and backboards and baskets on almost every vacant lot. Within five or six years he did.
Case’s first 10 years at N.C. State have to be among the greatest of all time. His teams had 267 wins against 60 losses, six consecutive Southern Conference tournaments, three straight Atlantic Coast Conference tournaments. They won six of seven Dixie Classics. Tired of being doormats to N.C. State, the 1950s found nearby colleges hiring top caliber coaches, and recruiting quality players from around the country, eventually making college basketball “King” in North Carolina.
In addition to being a legendary coach, Case was a skilled promoter. The Dixie Classic, a Case brainchild, was the forerunner of today’s many popular holiday tournaments. Case introduced such practices as cutting down the nets after a championship and shining a spotlight on players as they were introduced. The installation of an applause meter in Reynolds Coliseum, the invitation to high school coaches for clinics, and his open-door policy to the media were other Case trademarks.
Case resigned from N.C. State in 1965 and died in 1966. He was the first basketball coach enshrined in the State of North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame and was inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame in 1981.
Josephus Daniels, editor and publisher of the News & Observer, was one of the leading journalists of his era. Born in Washington, N.C., in 1862, he moved with his mother and brothers to Wilson when his father, a shipwright for the Confederate Navy, was killed by Union troops during an ambush in 1865.
Daniels developed his lifelong interest in journalism at the young age of 16, when he and a brother first published an amateur newspaper. Soon he became Wilson correspondent and subscription agent for two Raleigh newspapers and in 1880 he became local news editor of a Wilson weekly country newspaper.
In the summer of 1885, Daniels briefly attended the University of North Carolina Law School. Although he passed the State bar exam, he never practiced law. Over the next decade, Daniels was involved in the business of several newspapers and became increasingly influential within Democratic circles. In late 1894, with financial backing from a Durham tobacco manufacturer, Daniels purchased the News & Observer. He was the editor and publisher of the newspaper until his death in 1948.
Daniels served the Democratic Party at the state and national levels. He was a member of the Democratic National Committee for many years and helped with the presidential campaigns of William Jennings Bryan in 1908 and Woodrow Wilson in 1912. In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson named Daniels Secretary of the Navy.
Under his leadership, the Navy expanded greatly and fought effectively in World War I. He introduced compulsory schooling for illiterate or poorly educated sailors, opened the Naval Academy to enlisted men, and reformed the naval prison system. Other Daniels innovations include requiring sea service for promotion, enlisting women, banning alcoholic beverages from the officers’ mess hall, creating the civilian-staffed Naval Consulting Board to advise the Navy on technological advances, and strengthening the Naval War College.
Daniels resigned as head of the Navy Department in 1921. He returned to his job as editor and publisher of the News & Observer until his appointment in 1933 as U.S. ambassador to Mexico by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. While in Mexico City, Daniels won the favor of the Mexican people for his refusal to serve as an agent of American oil interests and did much to advance Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policy. Daniels had to cut short his foreign service when his wife fell ill in 1941 and he returned to Raleigh and his newspaper.
A master storyteller, Daniels wrote about naval history; his friend, Woodrow Wilson; and his nephew, Worth Bagley, who was the first casualty of the Spanish American War. He also stayed true to his Methodist roots, teaching the men’s Bible class at Edenton Street Methodist Church.
Throughout his life, Josephus Daniels spoke out for world peace, improved economic opportunity and better education. He died at the age of 85 and is buried in Raleigh’s Oakwood Cemetery.
Debnam’s service to Raleigh as a community volunteer spanned more than 50 years and her contributions were varied and significant. She worked actively and continuously for the betterment of the Southeast Raleigh area where she lived, but her influence stretched throughout our city. Together with her husband, Dr. George Debnam, she raised three daughters who are now successful professionals in their chosen careers of medicine and education.
When Debnam came to Raleigh in 1952, she immediately dedicated herself to helping others. In 1969, she and her husband established “The Friends of Distinction,” a club devoted to helping young black men develop successful life skills. More than 700 young men consider her their “second mother.” She became the first woman and first African-American to serve on Wake Medical Center’s Board of Trustees.
She was passionate in her dedication to projects involving health, youth and education. Her 35 years of work with the YWCA is legendary. Serving on the Board of Directors, she co-founded after-school care programs and was instrumental in establishing a program to provide breast cancer screening to medically underserved women. Debnam was a founding member of Strengthening the Black Family, Inc. and a board member of Wake Opportunities. Her service extended to her spiritual life where she was active in several churches in her community. A list of other organizations that benefited from her volunteer efforts would easily fill a page.
Marjorie Boyd Debnam had a flair for seeing people not as they were, but as they could be, and worked diligently to help them achieve their full potential. A mentor, leader, activist, and tireless worker in the church community, she led by example and remained active until her death in 2004.
A voice crying in the wilderness is often heard from a safe distance. For over 50 years, Reverend William Finlator’s voice has been heard in this state, not from afar, but insistently close, proclaiming those principles of freedom from racial and economic injustice, opposition to war, and separation of church and state.
A native of Louisburg and a graduate of Wake Forest College and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky, Reverend Finlator held pastorates at churches in a number of towns in North Carolina, most notably for 26 years at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh. Finlator excelled as a preacher. He spoke to the issues his members were dealing with at the time, both personal and social. Throughout the second half of the 20th century his presence has been felt in a variety of urgent causes from peace marches, to chairmanship of the North Carolina Advisory Commission on Civil Rights, to testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in opposition to the use of public school facilities for religious meetings.
Finlator’s efforts were met with both scorn and admiration. Predictably, he remained calm in the wake of midnight phone threats to him and his family and continued to preach, speak, write, and witness — at military bases, behind prison walls, religious conventions, labor union meetings, migrant worker gatherings, in polling places, city halls and the halls of academia.
He served as vice president of both Southerners for Economic Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union. Since his retirement from Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in 1982, Finlator has continued to be a voice for equality and justice.
Finlator has been justifiably recognized for his service. He is the recipient of the North Carolina Award for Public Service; Paul Green Award; John T. Caldwell Award for the Humanities; Peace Now Award; Brotherhood Award; National Conference of Christians and Jews; AFL-CIO Award; N.C. Human Relations Council Award; N.C. Council of Churches Award; Frank Porter Graham Award; and honorary degrees from Wake Forest University and the University of North Carolina.
William Finlator has lived his beliefs and yet has been unfailingly respectful of diverse opinions. Raleigh is a more humane and “equalized” city because of this man.
A.J. Fletcher was indeed a successful businessman who founded Capitol Broadcasting in 1938, but he is more accurately defined by what he gave back to his city and state, not only from his coffers but more importantly from his heart.
Born in Ashe County in 1887, Fletcher was the son of a Baptist minister and the seventh of fourteen children. He attended Wake Forest College, and although he did not graduate, he learned enough law to sit for the bar and run his own law practice. In search of new pursuits, he moved his young family to the Capital City in 1919.
His love of opera led to the founding of the National Opera Company. Its mission has been to present opera in English, and it has fostered appreciation and understanding of this art form to countless numbers of North Carolina school children and adults.
His accomplishments are many and include the establishment of Fletcher School of the Performing Arts and the A.J. Fletcher Music Center at East Carolina University. To enable every college and university level musical program to offer financial aid to students, he established the Fletcher Music Scholarships. In 1944, he served as president of the Raleigh Little Theater. He was elected opera chairman of the National Federation of Music Clubs in 1949. Since 1961, the Fletcher Foundation has committed a total of $35 million to North Carolina schools, businesses and non-profit organizations. Today, the opera theater in downtown Raleigh bears his name.
Fletcher’s business ventures included the development of a successful legal practice; formation of Dixie Life Insurance Company; creation of Aldredge and Company, a wholesale grocery business; and the establishment of Hayes Barton Laundry and Dry Cleaners in 1940.
His honors include induction in the North Carolina Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame, an honorary doctorate in the humanities from Duke University, the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Wake Forest University, and the renaming of the N.C. Baptist State Convention communications center in his honor.
A.J. Fletcher died in 1979 at the age of 91. He was truly a man of numerous accomplishments and uncommon giving during his lifetime. More so, his legacy lives on today as the many seeds he planted to help others have continued to grow and flourish.
Throughout Raleigh, especially Southeast Raleigh, John P. “Top” Greene’s name is synonymous with community service. For more than 30 years, Greene worked diligently with elected officials and community groups to shape Raleigh’s growth and make it a better city for all. He promoted the preservation and development of Raleigh’s South Park Neighborhood, one of the nation’s oldest historically black communities.
Born in 1920, Greene was a lifelong resident of South Park. A veteran of both World War II and the Korean War, he returned to Raleigh and immersed himself in community projects. He was an active member of the Central Citizens Advisory Council for 20 years, serving as its chairman from 1980 until 1996. Greene also served as chairman of the Eastside Neighborhood Task Force for 11 years. He organized his neighbors into a volunteer force that strived to maintain the dignity and preservation of the area they called home.
Known for his diligence and perseverance, Greene earned the highest respect from his community and the city, serving many city councils through special appointments to represent the citizen constituency. Championing the cause of a better community for all, Greene unselfishly convened community meetings, sought to understand the needs of the citizens, and, with fortitude, delivered the message through the appropriate channels.
Greene’s accomplishments include ordinances to improve and maintain the appearance of Raleigh, improvements to the infrastructure of the city through the development of roadways that connect and provide access to all communities, support of affordable and accessible housing for more residents, the placement of a police substation in Southeast Raleigh, the construction of a community center for the residents of South Park, and the expansion and renovation of Chavis Park.
Greene received accolades for his leadership and service from Governors James B. Hunt, Jr. and James G. Martin, and also was honored numerous times by the Raleigh City Council, community service and professional organizations, and his church, St. Paul A.M.E. Greene died in May 2004.
Recognized by community leaders as a “Good Citizen,” John P. “Top” Greene was committed to responsible growth and advocacy for Southeast Raleigh. His calm yet decisive way of working with people achieved results that are enjoyed by the city to this day.
Knudsen was instrumental in the merger of the Raleigh City and Wake County school systems, the implementation of the Capital Area Transit (CAT) system of public transportation, the establishment of a greenway system, the community use of schools, and scattered site strategy for public housing. In 1975 she wrote the successful application for Raleigh’s “All American City Award,” and in 1976 was chosen Raleigh’s Volunteer of the Year.
Knudsen was the first woman to serve as chair of the Wake County Board of Commissioners. As county commissioner, she hired the first professionally trained manager for the county, began the computerization of tax records, started a county-financed countywide 911 system, and initiated the unification of a countywide library system. She developed a policy and procedure manual for the tax department, and developed separate current expense and long-range capital budgets.
In addition, Knudsen developed a model hazardous waste ordinance for the area and set environmental standards to protect Jordan and Falls lakes. As a member of the Raleigh Civic Center Authority, Knudsen helped pass a bond issue for the construction of the Civic Center and oversaw its design and construction. Later, she oversaw the remodeling of Memorial Auditorium and made sure of its designation as the permanent home for the North Carolina Symphony.
Perhaps Knudsen’s greatest contribution has been that of role model and mentor for women in public service. Few women (and men) in Wake County, or in the state, would embark on a run for public office without seeking her blessing and guided wisdom. A lifelong Democrat, Knudsen ran several campaigns, including that of Isabella Cannon, Raleigh’s first female mayor, and served as an elected official herself. In 1985 she was elected as a delegate to represent Raleigh at the White House Conference on Small Business. She lobbied President Reagan to continue the Small Business Administration. Today, Knudsen remains an active volunteer and advocate for the City of Raleigh. Betty Ann Knudsen does everything with love and respect for others. Her kind heart and generous spirit are reflected in her 30 years of service to Raleigh and Wake County.
Although their contributions were made during different times in Raleigh’s history, R. Beverly Raney and Mollie Huston Lee are recognized as a team for what they accomplished for our public library system. Raney was born in Granville County in 1860. Two years before his death, Lee was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1907. She died in 1982.
Married less than two years, Raney’s first wife Olivia died in childbirth in 1896. As a loving tribute to her memory, Raney donated $45,000 for a free circulation library in Raleigh. The building opened in January 1901, providing not only a library with an initial collection of nearly 5,000 books, but also an auditorium for musical and dramatic presentations. Raney’s gift became the foundation for what has evolved into the Wake County Public Library System.
Three decades after the Olivia Raney Library opened, Mollie Huston Lee came to the city and soon discovered that no public library served the African-American community. Seeing a need to collect materials concerning the African-American experience, she opened her own storefront library in 1935 on East Hargett Street in downtown Raleigh’s black business district with 860 books. Lee offered the first library outreach in town, walking with her book basket in hand to various offices and local businesses to distribute her books and materials.
With Lee’s leadership and strong community support, sufficient funds were raised in 1948 to purchase a house on Blount Street, and her library, now named for Richard B. Harrison, moved to a new larger location. With her help, the library merged with the Wake County Public Library System in 1966, and plans were soon made for a new facility. In June 1967, the library moved to its current location on New Bern Avenue. Today, the New Bern Avenue Library houses the Mollie Huston Lee Collection, a special non-circulating collection of African-American reference material that documents the lives of African-Americans in the Raleigh community. As a leader among library professionals, Lee’s influence was felt across the state and the nation for over 40 years.
The public library system we have today in Wake County is a result of the determination and generosity of R. Beverly Raney and Mollie Huston Lee. Both individuals recognized the value of the public library as a great equalizer for all people regardless of race, culture, socio-economic status, ethnicity, or educational background.
Dr. Annie Louise Wilkerson, or Dr. Annie as she is affectionately known, never let a thing like gender get in her way, at least not for long. Born in Apex in 1914, she moved with her family to Raleigh at the age of 6. At the age of 2, she was riding along with her father, Dr. Charles B. Wilkerson, Sr., as he made rounds in western Wake County in a horse and buggy. By the time she was in her teens, Annie Louise was skilled in the basics such as administering shots, and at age 20, with her father assisting, she delivered a baby.
After attending Duke University for two years and then graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill, she earned her medical degree from the Medical College of Virginia. Dr. Annie became the first woman to complete her internship and residency at Rex Hospital, and subsequently joined her father’s private practice in 1940, becoming Raleigh’s first woman to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology.
In 1948, Dr. Annie was named president of the staff at Rex, where years later she would be recognized as the first Physician of Merit. In 1954, she was elected president of the Wake County Medical Society and later became the first chief of staff of the Wake County Medical Center when it opened in 1961.
During World War II, Dr. Annie toiled around the clock, seeing private patients and then commuting back and forth between Rex and St. Agnes seeing clinic patients whether or not their health issues had anything to do with her specialty. Tenacity and talent won out. Dr. Annie had earned the respect of fellow physicians and was accepted into “the club,” thus paving the way for other women in medicine.
In the 1950s, her younger brothers, Charles and Louis, joined her practice. Eventually, other physicians affiliated with what would become known as Wilkerson Obstetrics & Gynecology. At the time of her retirement in 1993, Dr. Annie had delivered some 8,000 babies, and many returned as grown-ups to be her patients. Dr. Annie takes great pride in the fact that she practiced medicine with her father and both of her brothers.
Dr. Annie represented her community well, serving on various civic boards and committees, including the United Way, Wake County Chapter of the American Cancer Society, and the YWCA, of which she is a lifetime member. She helped establish Planned Parenthood of The Capital and Coast, and was a member of the Woman’s Club of Raleigh. She is a member of Edenton Street United Methodist Church where she served on the administrative board. She is also a founding member of the Alice Aycock Poe Center for Health Education.
Dr. Annie Louise Wilkerson could easily be called a pioneer female physician who has spent a lifetime of dedicated service to her patients, her profession, and her community.
James “Willie” York’s contributions to Raleigh span a significant part of the 20th century. His decades-long construction career, outstanding community service, and philanthropy have helped shape North Carolina’s capital city into the thriving metropolis it is today.
Willie was born in 1912 when Raleigh was a sleepy southern capital. He began his construction career at age 10, when he was put to work as a water boy on the Wiley School construction site, a project undertaken by his father, Charles Vance York, a noted contractor and builder. Willie continued work on his father’s projects, including Memorial Auditorium, until he earned a degree in civil engineering from State College in 1933.
Willie’s graduation at the height of the Great Depression presented both uncertainty and great opportunity. He was able to secure a “New Deal” salaried position with the Bureau of Public Roads in Tennessee, and gained invaluable civil engineering experience. This served him well when he returned to Raleigh in 1935 to commence work as foreman for C.V. York and Son General Contractor.
After the war, Willie planned to develop a small residential neighborhood on the city’s northwest fringe. He revised his plans after reading about something new, called a shopping center, in California. His development of the first shopping center in the southeastern United States that followed, Cameron Village, demonstrates his groundbreaking vision for a well-planned community. Willie’s success with Cameron Village in the late 1940s launched him into a building and community development career that helped shape post-war Raleigh.
As a member of the Raleigh School Board, Willie cast the pivotal vote to desegregate Murphey School in 1961. As chairman of the North Carolina Board of Conservation and Development, he helped launch a network of welcome centers across the state tobolster tourism. He also took an active role in promoting vocational training in the state’s schools in an effort to sustain building crafts, such as carpentry and masonry, vital to the construction industry.
During his tenure on the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority, the airport underwent an unprecedented expansion resulting in American Airlines’ decision to place a hub in the new terminal there in 1984. In the 1990s, he devoted his time to the establishment of Wake County’s first ecological park at Yates Mill and to the enhancement of the J.C. Raulston Arboretum.
James “Willie” York’s active civic and business life bridged Raleigh’s development from the time he helped his father build the city’s enduring early 20th century landmarks, to his children’s continuing real estate and property development activities in the 21st century.
For over 100 years the Woman’s Club of Raleigh has encouraged women to improve their skills, expand their rights, and apply their abilities and special sensitivity to society’s needs.
The legacy began in 1904 when Elvira Evelyna Worth Moffitt gathered a group of ladies together for the sole purpose of organizing a woman’s club. The original structure included departments on Child Culture, Literature, Domestic Science, Art, Village Improvement, Charities, and Music. Other early activities included a first free milk fund, a first baby clinic, and a free lunch program for undernourished children. The club also promoted the development of a county health department, helped secure the first public health nurse, provided supplies for a new hospital, and planned creative, educational programs for its members. The purchase of a bookmobile for Wake County, hiring of a full time psychologist in the public schools,establishment of a library at Dorothea Dix Hospital, creation of a garden at the Woman’s Correctional Center, and numerous beautification projects were other club initiatives.
Over the years the club has given significant financial and hands-on support to countless organizations, including the YWCA, YMCA, Rex Hospital, Re Cross, Dix Hospital, Salvation Army, Wake County Detention Home, Interact, Girl Scouts, Raleigh Boychoir, Community Music School, Capital City Trail, Raleigh Historic Site Foundation, Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, all North Carolina state museums, Raleigh City Museum, and various educational programs in Wake County Schools. The scholarship program of the Woman’s Club has provided thousands of dollars each year to high school students and mature women who wish to continue their education and improve job skills.
Many other organizations got their start through the efforts of the Woman’s Club of Raleigh. These include the local Tuberculosis Association and the Earl W. Brian Clinic, Raleigh Garden Club, Junior Woman’s Club of Raleigh, Cerebral Palsy and Rehabilitation Center, Capital City Trails, and the local Red Cross chapter. It has been said that good things begin when someone cares. Members of the Woman’s Club of Raleigh have cared for more than a century. Their imprint on the quality of life in Raleigh and in North Carolina is well-defined.