On this day in WNC history: Convening in the St. Paul AME Church in Raleigh, African American representatives from seven WNC counties joined the second Freedmen’s Convention on this day in 1866.
In the 1865 Freedmen’s Convention almost all representatives came from eastern and Piedmont counties. While an estimated 17,000 African Americans resided in western counties, only one unidentified representative from Rutherford County travelled to Raleigh to take part in this meeting preceding the NC Constitutional Convention. In the 1866 meeting, Thomas Hawkins, Reverend Alfred Stokes, Felix Grimes, Alfred Live, Reverend Vincent Michael, G.W. Paine, and T. Green represented Burke, Wilkes, Buncombe, Haywood, Rutherford, Polk, and Henderson counties respectively. The 1865 convention pushed for voting rights and peaceful race/labor conditions, while the 1866 delegates made education a top priority, creating the Educational Association of the Colored People of North Carolina. They also resolved to form auxiliary and equal rights leagues in each county to report crimes and brutalities and endorsed the creation of the Freedmen’s Bureau.
For the WNC delegates, several of whom were formerly enslaved, this was their first chance to participate in any political or bureaucratic process, but it would not be their last. Some were especially active in the proceedings including Rev. Michael of Rutherford County—appointed to the business committee and the executive committee of the Equal Rights League—and Thomas Hawkins of Burke who made a report on animosity and violence against African Americans. Alfred Stokes, later active in the Wilkes County Republican Party, made a convention speech described as “lengthy, humorous and witty,” but his speech before a Republican meeting in Wilkesboro the following April rankled some white speakers. Felix Grimes later served on the Buncombe County Republican Committee, advocated for the Spartanburg and Asheville Railway, and carried mail for many years in the Reems Creek area. Unfortunately, not much is known about the other delegates present.