Congressman Butterfield's bill naming Durham Courthouse after John Hervey Wheeler passes House

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

DURHAM, N.C. -- Congressman G. K. Butterfield's bill, H.R. 3460, to designate the United States courthouse located on East Chapel Hill Street in Durham as the "John Hervey Wheeler United States Courthouse" passed the House of Representatives Thursday.

"John Hervey Wheeler left a legacy across North Carolina as one of our most prominent Black leaders and community advocates who had a hand in transforming Durham into the city we know and love today," said Butterfield.

"I cannot think of a better way to pay tribute to John Hervey Wheeler's remarkable life and career, than naming this courthouse in his honor. I am proud that my bill to name the federal courthouse in Durham after John Hervey Wheeler passed the House of Representatives, and I urge the Senate to expeditiously take up this bill."

Butterfield spoke on the House Floor on Monday in support of H.R. 3460.

Background on John Hervey Wheeler:

John Hervey Wheeler was born in 1908 in the town of Kittrell in Vance County to Mr. John Leonidas Wheeler and the former Margaret Hervey. The family moved to Durham when his father took a job as an insurance agent with the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company (NC Mutual). His father's job at NC Mutual eventually took the family to Atlanta, Georgia when John Leonidas was promoted to supervisor for the company's Georgia operations.

John Hervey Wheeler was educated in Atlanta and attended high school at Morehouse Academy, followed by Morehouse College where he graduated summa cum laude. After graduating from Morehouse College, John Hervey Wheeler returned to Durham and began a decades-long career at Mechanics & Farmers (M&F) Bank, starting first as a bank teller and eventually rising to serve as bank president.

After returning to Durham, he enrolled in law school at the North Carolina College for Negroes - now North Carolina Central University - where, in 1947, he was among the institution's first law school graduates.

In 1935, John Hervey Wheeler became a founding member of the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs (DCNA), a local civil rights organization that established a means for African Americans to become involved in large-scale community activism in the fight for civil rights and economic justice. The organization continues today as the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. It was from DCNA that John Hervey Wheeler rose as a political leader.

As president of M&F Bank, John Hervey Wheeler was instrumental in creating affordable lending options for African Americans that were previously unavailable to them. He is credited with breaking down barriers in lending so enterprising African Americans could realize their entrepreneurial goals. As an attorney, John Hervey Wheeler was a stalwart advocate for equality and fairness. He helped to lead several successful lawsuits that challenged educational segregation including the U.S. Supreme Court case Frasier v. Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina.

Due to his long and established work in support of civil rights, then-President John F. Kennedy appointed John Hervey Wheeler to the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity- now the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission- in 1961. In 1963, John Hervey Wheeler became an incorporator of the North Carolina Fund, an ambitious antipoverty agency established by then-Governor Terry Sanford to help eradicate issues of poverty. The Fund became a model for Lyndon B. Johnson's national War on Poverty initiative.

John Hervey Wheeler passed away on July 6, 1978 at the age of 70.

John Hervey Wheeler was the recipient of many awards and commendations over his long and important career, including the Frank Porter Graham Civil Liberties Award for his defense of freedom for all North Carolinians.