A U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a major civil rights employment case with North Carolina ties soon will be commemorated with an N.C. Highway Historical Marker.
In Griggs v. Duke Power, the Supreme Court invalidated hiring practices that were based on education and tests that were not predictive of job performance. African American workers at the Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C., sued Duke Power for violating Title VII (Fair Employment Act) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The plaintiffs in the case were African American employees Willie Boyd, Junior Blackstock, James S. Tucker, William C. Purcell, Clarence Jackson, Eddie Galloway, Lewis Hairston Jr., Robert Jumper, Jesse C. Martin, Herman E. Martin, Eddie Broadnax, Willie Griggs, and W. Clarence Purcell. Their complaint was that the high school diploma requirement and the battery of tests did not directly predict the ability to do a job, such as coal handler at the Dan River Station, and served only to subordinate African American employees.
Before the Civil Rights Act, Duke Power’s Dan River Steam Station employed African Americans only in the labor department, performing janitorial and low-level maintenance work. All other jobs in the facility were reserved for white workers. The highest-paid Black workers, some with more than 20 years of experience, made less than the lowest-paid white workers.
Duke Power’s response to the Fair Employment Act was to require applicants for “inside” (or traditionally “white”) jobs to complete a battery of stringent written intelligence and skills tests. Duke Power also created a new position in the traditionally African American labor department entitled “auxiliary service man.” It was for men who “exhibited ... extraordinary skills,” that might deserve more money despite not having a high school diploma. At the time of the Griggs case, no one held the position.
The United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled on March 8, 1971, in favor of the plaintiffs.
The marker, placed on East Kings Highway between UNC Health Rockingham and Rockingham County Public Library in Eden, will be dedicated Saturday, Oct. 7 at 10 a.m.
For more information about the historical marker, please visit https://ncmarkers.com/Markers.aspx?MarkerId=J-124.
About the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (DNCR) manages, promotes, and enhances the things that people love about North Carolina – its diverse arts and culture, rich history, and spectacular natural areas. Through its programs, the department enhances education, stimulates economic development, improves public health, expands accessibility, and strengthens community resiliency.
The department manages over 100 locations across the state, including 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, five science museums, four aquariums, 35 state parks, four recreation areas, dozens of state trails and natural areas, the North Carolina Zoo, the North Carolina Symphony, the State Library, the State Archives, the N.C. Arts Council, the African American Heritage Commission, the American Indian Heritage Commission, the State Historic Preservation Office, the Office of State Archaeology, the Highway Historical Markers program, the N.C. Land and Water Fund, and the Natural Heritage Program. For more information, please visit www.ncdcr.gov.