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



Marker Text:

     Born into slavery in Georgia, John H. Williamson was brought to Louisburg by his widowed mother in 1858. Despite barriers to education, Williamson learned to read by the end of the Civil War and quickly became politically active. His first role was as a delegate to the state Freedmen’s Convention followed by appointment as Franklin County Registrar in 1867. Williamson eventually served six terms in the state legislature (1868-74, 1876-77, and 1887), more than any other nineteenth century African American. He served on his county Board of Education, as a Justice of the Peace, and as a delegate to Republican National Conventions in 1872, 1884, and 1888. While in office, Williamson advocated equal rights for blacks, proposing various legislative agendas to accomplish that goal. He also advocated the overall improvement of his race through education and personal improvement in order to earn a greater role in the political, economic, and social spheres.

     Williamson recognized the power of the press and in 1881, the year he was elected Secretary to the North Carolina Industrial Commission, he founded The Banner, a paper dedicated to educational and industrial topics with the objective of promoting the Industrial Commission. With circulation across the state, The Banner was merged by Williamson with the Goldsboro Enterprise; he moved his printing operations to Raleigh in 1883. The Banner-Enterprise faltered and Williamson sold his shares to begin another, the Raleigh Gazette, in 1884. The Gazette became one of the state’s leading African American newspapers, sending its political, educational and industrial views statewide. The Gazette also saw growth in circulation to over 2,000, an impressive figure since most black papers had circulation numbers around 500. Counted as a friend by Josephus Daniels, Williamson was described as a man “pushing forward into new realms and bringing new conquests of glory” to his race.

Eric Foner, Freedom’s Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders during Reconstruction (1993)
Henry L. Suggs, The Black Press in the South (1983)
R. K. Burkett, Black Biography, 1790-1950, II (1991)
John H. Haley, Charles N. Hunter and Race Relations in North Carolina (1987)
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north carolina highway historical marker program

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