With election fever infecting a large part of the country, it is only appropriate that this month’s featured documents from Duke’s CCC Project digitized collections are newspaper advertisements about voter turnout from the Rencher Nicholas Harris Papers. What makes these documents particularly interesting—and disturbing—is the demographic group that they targeted: white voters frightened about the perceived usurpation of power by an African-American voting bloc.
These advertisements likely appeared in one of Durham’s newspapers in the days before the local elections of May 1949. I determined the probable date by looking at the other materials in the Harris Papers located near these clippings. Two possible dates emerged—May 1949 and November 1956. While both dates are plausible, the fact that the advertisements speak specifically to Durham’s leadership rather than a presidential or gubernatorial election makes 1949 more likely. In addition, the fact that Election Day was a Saturday is another strike against 1956. We encourage readers of this blog to decipher the exact date of these advertisements as well as their original newspaper(s) and the persons behind the generically-named “Public Spirited Citizens of the Community.”
Beyond determining the provenance of these advertisements, we anticipate that most readers will find these advertisements most interesting for their racial arguments. The fears that undergirded these advertisements relied on the two-pronged belief that African-American voters would turn out in large numbers and that all of those voters would cast their ballots monolithically. While the language in the advertisements is clearly prejudiced, its reliance upon believing that African-American leaders were successfully organizing get-out-the-vote efforts is an oddly-backhanded compliment to Harris and his political allies. The language in these advertisements is ripe for further analysis, so we encourage our readers to dive in and become immersed in the racial and political history of Rencher Nicholas Harris’s time on the Durham City Council.
The grant-funded CCC Project is designed to digitize selected manuscripts and photographs relating to the long civil rights movement. For more about Rubenstein Library materials being digitized through the CCC Project, check out previous progress updates posted here at The Devil’s Tale!
Post contributed by Josh Hager, CCC Graduate Assistant.