Andre Vann, coordinator of NCCU Archives (from left); Kenneth Edmonds, Louis Austin’s grandson and publisher of The Carolina Times; and Dr. Jerry Gershenhorn, NCCU Department of History professor.

 

Influential black newspaper pioneer and North Carolina Central University graduate, the late Louis Austin, was recently honored with establishment of a North Carolina Historical Marker in his hometown of Enfield. Born in 1898, Austin became known for his work as a journalist and civil rights activist. He gained notoriety in the 1950s and 1960s for his influence on the Civil Rights Movement in Durham and throughout the state.

Austin graduated in 1921 from the National Training School, now known as North Carolina Central, and initially worked at North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Co. Later that year, he became a sports editor for The Standard Advertiser, a Durham newspaper that was later renamed The Carolina Times. By 1927, he had purchased the paper and shifted his editorial focus to civil rights. He published opinion pieces and news stories about the need for racial equality that challenged discriminatory policies aimed at African Americans and other minorities. Austin often wrote about school integration as a means of achieving educational parity, as well as equity in school funding and unfair teacher hiring practices.

In 1933, Austin participated in a lawsuit filed on behalf NCCU student Thomas Hocutt challenging the whites-only admission practices of the University of North Carolina. The controversial case split Durham’s black community, with many fearing the legal fight would lead to violence. The suit was eventually dismissed based on the judge’s conclusion that the plaintiff’s should have sought consideration of Hocutt’s application regardless of race, instead of arguing that UNC was compelled to admit him. Nonetheless, it was the first legal challenge to educational segregation in the south and is widely considered the test case for Brown v. Board of Education, brought 20 years later, that outlawed racial segregation in public education.

In 1935, Austin helped organize the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs, which was later renamed the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. The organization assisted in registering African Americans to vote and electing African American politicians. Within a year of its forming, African American voter registration rose significantly.

Austin edited and published The Carolina Times until his death in 1971. The legacy of the prominent newspaper lives on through Austin’s grandson, Kenneth Edmonds, current publisher of The Carolina Times in Durham.