north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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Essay:
      Voters of the “Black Second” Congressional district of North Carolina elected four African American representatives between 1874 and 1898. Virginia, South Carolina, and Mississippi also had predominantly black districts in the late nineteenth century, but James Edward O’Hara (1844-1905) was the only black member of the Congress upon his election in 1882. Historian Eric Anderson contended that successful politicians like O’Hara “were themselves the best symbols of black progress . . . the most vivid manifestation of increasing black autonomy.” O’Hara, he noted, was “intellectually the superior of John Hyman,” the state’s first black Congressman. Anderson wrote that O’Hara “represented his district well during his four years in Congress,” introducing bills to provide aid to common schools, improve waterways, provide pension relief, and erect public buildings. O’Hara gained national attention in 1884 when he tried to attach an antidiscrimination rider to an interstate commerce bill, mandating equal accommodations for all railway passengers.

      Born in New York City, James Edward O’Hara was the son of an Irish seaman and a West Indian woman. In 1862 he accompanied a group of missionaries to eastern North Carolina, then occupied by federal troops. O’Hara acted as secretary of the North Carolina Freedmen’s Convention of 1866 and served as chairman of the Halifax County Board of Commissioners from 1872 to 1876. After study at Howard, he was admitted to the bar in 1873 and practiced in Enfield until he moved to New Bern in 1890. He was a Republican candidate for Congress in five consecutive elections. His loss in 1886 was at the hands of Furnifold Simmons.

      O’Hara owned five tracts in Halifax County. Deed research reveals that one of those was “the place where James E. O’Hara now (1876) resides.” The tract was further identified as being “situated in the fork of the Enfield and Tarboro and Enfield and Raleigh roads.” This places the site just outside the Enfield town limits at the junction of NC 481 and SR 1220. The current property owner and a county commissioner confirm that this tract and a house that remains are known locally as the “O’Hara place.”


References:
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, IV, 388-389 – sketch by Joseph E. Elmore
Eric Anderson, The Black Second: Race and Politics in North Carolina, 1872-1901 (1981)
Frenise A. Logan, The Negro in North Carolina, 1876-1894 (1964)
Halifax County Deed Books, North Carolina State Archives
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north carolina highway historical marker program


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