An example that the pen is mightier than the sword is journalist Louis Austin, who advocated for and advanced social justice and civil rights as publisher of the “Carolina Times” newspaper in Durham. The Halifax County native will be recognized with a N.C. Highway Historical marker to be dedicated Friday, June 14, 9 a.m. at 122 SE Railroad St., Enfield.
The African American newspaper editor adopted positions on civil rights that countered those of Durham’s black middle-class leadership. Austin identified with the philosophy of W.E. B. DuBois and Frederick Douglas, advocates of protest. C. C. Spaulding along with the leaders of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, and other leaders, were accommodationists aligned with the philosophy of Booker T. Washington.
Austin began working for the “Standard Advertiser” while a student at the National Training School in Durham (present-day N.C. Central University), a publication founded by Charles Arrant in 1921. He graduated in 1922 and in 1927 got a loan from Mechanics and Farmers Bank, bought the paper and changed the name to “Carolina Times.”
Along with C.C. Spaulding and James Shepard, Austin organized the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs, and among other things it led to increased voter registration among blacks from 50 in 1929 to 3,000 in 1939.
Austin and others went on to challenge discriminatory admissions policies at UNC in 1933, encouraged black veterans returning home from WWI to fight white supremacy, and called for direct action against discrimination just one week before the 1957 sit-in at Royal Ice Cream in Durham. He was a model for civil rights activist leaders but did not endorse calls for black nationalism.
In 1971, Austin died in Durham and is buried there. He has been recognized by historians as a key leader in the civil rights movement in Durham and across the state.
For information on the highway marker dedication call (252) 673-0646. For information on the Highway Historical Marker Program, call (919) 814-6625. The Highway Historical Marker Program is a collaboration between the N.C. Departments of Natural and Cultural Resources and Transportation.