Charles Norfleet Hunter (1852-1931), as a school teacher, journalist, and historian, was committed to improving social conditions and opportunities for the people of his race. Born into slavery, Hunter was the son of artisan Osborne Hunter. Their owner was William Dallas Haywood, a member of one of Raleigh’s most prominent families. Young Hunter’s mother died when he was three and he was raised by an aunt.
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Hunter gained his first job with the Freedmen’s Savings and Trust in Raleigh. After that venture failed in 1874, he began teaching, a profession with which he was associated the rest of his life. Over the years he taught in Raleigh, Durham, Goldsboro, Garner, Haywood, Pittsboro, Wilson’s Mills, Manchester, Lumber Bridge, and Palmyra. Most notably, from 1910 to 1918, he served as principal of the “Negro School” at Method that became, during his tenure there, the Berry O’Kelly School . In 1917 it was acclaimed as the “finest and most practical rural training school in the entire South.”
Hunter was one of the founders in 1879 of the North Carolina Industrial Association, sponsor of the Negro State Fair, an annual event into the 1930s which featured the Old Slaves Reunion and Dinner. Hunter wrote articles and letters for numerous newspapers and periodicals concerning race relations and the progress of Negroes. He worked at but never completed a general history of blacks in North Carolina, enlisting in that endeavor the aid of Kemp Battle, Samuel A. Ashe, and Fred Olds. A life-long Republican, he alternated in his racial philosophy between accomodationist, akin to that of Booker T. Washington, and radical. He never advocated violence or separatism.
Historian George B. Tindall attempted to fix the significance of Charles N. Hunter when he wrote that he was “a real-life Jane Pittman of the masculine persuasion, a man who witnessed the changes in race relations from emancipation to the milled of the Age of Segregation,” further noting that “although a person of relative obscurity, he was active in public life.” It was from Hunter’s voluminous papers at Duke University that Tindall’s student John H. Haley fashioned his 1981 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill dissertation and 1987 University of North Carolina Press biography.
John H. Haley, Charles N. Hunter and Race Relations in North Carolina (1987)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina, III, 235—sketch by Robert L. Byrd
Raleigh city directories, 1919 and 1931
Wake County Deed Books, North Carolina State Archives
(Raleigh) News and Observer, September 5, 1931 (obituary)