This Month in History – February is also Human Relations Month

The Wilmington-New Hanover County Human Relations Commission which started life in the 1960s under another name, began celebrating Human Relations Week (later Month) in 1971.  The month was designed to “promote interaction and understanding among people of different races, beliefs, and cultures and to celebrate those things that unify us as a people.”

The first iteration of the commission was called the Bi-Racial Committee.  It was formed with the support of both the mayor and the chair of the New Hanover County commissioners in May 1963 to find “…honorable, moral and practical means of avoiding the strife and ill will which beset other communities throughout the U.S. in solving racial problems.” During that time, Civil Rights activists in Wilmington and around the nation took to the streets to try to desegregate public accommodations.

The first committee was made up of five black and five white men, whose numbers included African American doctors Hubert A. Eaton and Leroy Upperman, Reverend Edwin Kirton of the historically black St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, white minister Reverend Edward Connette, and white architect Herb McKim. The majority of the African American members of the committee resigned within six months of its founding, presumably frustrated by the lack of progress towards integration.  New committee members were found, and this bi-racial and intergovernmental attempt to build community and understanding continued to operate for over four decades.

Over the years, the committee became a commission, and changed its name a number of times.  First, it became a Good Neighbor Council after Governor Terry Sanford created a state-wide council and encouraged the creation of local councils.  Then it became the Human Relations Commission in 1971. Today, residents are served by a recently formed City of Wilmington/New Hanover County Community Relations Advisory Committee.

Cape Fear Museum’s collection includes items from the Wilmington-New Hanover County Human Relations Commission.

Previous Columns

January 2018: Galloway’s Sick Note
A Ship is Launched
Election Day and a Parade
Developing the story
A soldier/artist sketches a famous dancer
Urban Renewal Takes Off
Launching Concrete River Vessel No. 5
Wilmington Meets Los Angeles
Bellamy Sails to France
World TB Day
February: David Walker is Honored with a Marker
January 2017:
Two Brothers Honored on One Memorial Stone
Holiday Gifts
A nurse comes home from war
Wartime football takes the bases by storm
Circus Day
Motorboat Racing
Celebrating Independence Day at the Beach
Wilmington Turns 200, June 21, 1939
Laura Grace Cox graduates from Tileston
Saint Marks Turns 100, April 1969
March: Troops Return Home, March 29, 1919
February: Black History Month turns 40
January: Fort Johnston and Fort Caswell are seized, January 8, 1861

Human Relations Month button, February 1992
Gift of Janice B. Luth
814 Market Street • Wilmington, NC 28401 • Phone 910-798-4370 • Fax 910-798-4382