An N.C. Highway Historical marker recognizing the Knights of Labor was unveiled by the Phoenix Historical Society on Aug. 31 in Tarboro.
The marker stands in the 300 block of North Main Street on Courthouse Plaza at the site of the fifth annual N.C. State Assembly of the Knights of Labor held Jan. 28-29, 1890, in the Tarboro Opera House.
The dedication program at the Edgecombe County Administrative Building auditorium included greetings from Edgecombe Board of Commissioners Chairman Leonard Wiggins and Saladin Muhammad of UE Local 150 as well as remarks from former NCAE state president Eddie Davis III, Dr. Deborah Beckel of Lynchburg (Va.) College and Dr. Jeffrey Crow, retired deputy secretary of the N.C. Office of Archives & History. In a special feature, the St. Stephen Missionary Baptist Church Gospel Choir sang two hymns that were sung at a July 1889 rally at St. Stephen Church in Tarboro, as recorded in the July 11, 1889, issue of the national Journal of United Labor.
On behalf of the Phoenix Historical Society, members Doris Stith and Carol Quigless presented recognition certificates to Dr. Beckel and and Dr. Melton McLaurin for their pioneering scholarly work on the Knights of Labor in North Carolina. Stith and Quigless also presented the Society’s Helen G. Quigless Jr Award to Dr. Robert Hinton for his outstanding contribution in recovering, recording and promoting the history of African Americans in Edgecombe County from slavery to freedom, including the role of the Knights of Labor in the county. The Knights of Labor was a national labor organization including black and white, men and women, that came into North Carolina in the 1880s with the first local assemblies organized in the Raleigh-Durham area in 1884.
State Knights of Labor leader John Nichols of Wake County was elected to Congress in 1886 and the Knights of Labor Co-operative Tobacco Company was established in Raleigh the same year. From 1886 to 1890, a movement of black farm workers joined the Knights of Labor in Edgecombe and other counties of the “Black Second” congressional district and northeast N.C., such that the state assembly became majority African American. In 1888, the black locals of the Knights of Labor in Edgecombe are credited with securing the Republican nomination for Henry Cheatham who was elected as the third African American Congressman from the “Black Second.” The 1890 Knights of Labor state assembly in Tarboro voted to endorse the coalition with the Southern Farmers Alliance and Colored Farmers Alliance that led to the Peoples (Populist) Party in 1892.
This was a forerunner of the inter-racial Republican-Populist fusion that won majority in state government from 1894-98.
This marker is the first state marker recognizing the Knights of Labor as well as the first to include the words “Fusion movement.” This marker is now the fifth N.C. marker recognizing a labor subject. This marker is the fourth successful state marker request by the Phoenix Historical Society. The others were: George H. White (Tarboro, 2011), Operation Dixie (Rocky Mount, 2011) and Thelonious Monk (Rocky Mount, 2012). For more information, go to www.ncmarkers.com.