James Young was born in 1858 near Henderson to a slave belonging to Captain D. E. Young. His father, Isaac Jones Young (son of D. E. Young), made sure that James was properly educated in Henderson and at Shaw University. In 1877, he was hired to work in the office of Colonel J. J. Young, an internal revenue collector. While working in the office, Young became involved with the Republican Party and was chosen as a delegate to the party’s state convention in 1880.
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An industrious worker, Young was selected repeatedly for patronage positions in government. Known for his Republican activities, Young was targeted by Senate Democrats who blocked his confirmation for Wilmington customs collector in 1890 and removed him from his post as a customs inspector in 1893. As owner and editor of the Raleigh Gazette, the principal voice of black politics in North Carolina from 1893 to1898, Young became involved in the movement to merge the Republicans and Populists and became a central figure in the organization of the new Fusion Party. He was elected to the state legislature from Wake County on a Fusion ticket in 1894 and 1896.
An advocate for equality and reform, Young was the target of criticism from leaders within the Democratic Party. Despite the hostility, Young managed to get the Raleigh city charter amended to better represent the African American community and played a pivotal role in securing the election of Governor Daniel L. Russell. Governor Russell appointed Young colonel of a black regiment organized for the Spanish American War. Although the regiment saw no action, they were commended for their deportment. The regiment mustered out of duty in 1899 and Young planned a return to politics.
After the white supremacy campaign of 1898, Young and other prominent black politicians were prevented from participating in state politics. However, Young still had national connections and in 1899 was appointed Raleigh’s deputy revenue collector by President William McKinley, serving until 1913 when he was removed by the Democratic administration of President Woodrow Wilson. After leaving his post, Young was successful in several private business ventures. He was also involved in the Baptist Church and fraternal organizations. Throughout his career, Young sought to promote harmony between the races and promote moderate solutions to radical problems. Young died in 1921, respectfully eulogized by both the black and white community.
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, VI, 296-298—sketch by Willard B. Gatewood
Helen G. Edmonds, The Negro and Fusion Politics in North Carolina, 1894-1901 (1951)
John H. Haley, Charles N. Hunter and Race Relations in North Carolina (1987)
William Reaves, comp., Strength Through Struggle: The Chronological and Historical Record of the African-American Community in Wilmington, North Carolina, 1865-1950
J.A. Whitted, A History of the Negro Baptists of North Carolina (1908) online edition, Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina: http://docsouth.unc.edu/church/whitted/ill18.html
James H. Young, 1860-1921