The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

November 5, 2012

Phoenix educational program focuses on Knights of Labor


TARBORO — The Phoenix Historical Society will focus its annual November educational program on the history of the Knights of Labor in Edgecombe County. The program will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, 1263 New Hope Church Road (Dunbar community), Battleboro.

This will mark the 125th  anniversary of the letter of 26-year-old farm worker Nathanuel Marriott to Terence V. Powderly, national leader of the Knights of Labor, written from the New Hope Church on the Dunbar Plantation on Nov. 7, 1887.

A framed copy of the original letter is displayed in the New Hope Church foyer, a gift from the Phoenix Historical Society to the church in 2004. The copy of the original letter is courtesy of the Powderly Papers at the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives at the Catholic University of America, Washington.

The letter is a excellent representation of the movement of African American farm workers to organize local assemblies in Edgecombe and surrounding counties beginning in 1886 and 1887.

By March 1888, the Edgecombe Knights of Labor under leadership of Frank U. Whitted is credited with securing the Republican nomination to Congress of Henry P Cheatham, who was elected the third African American Congressman from the "Black Second" Congressional District.

Black farm laborer and Knights of Labor leader Frank M. Hines was elected Edgecombe Register of Deeds in 1886 and 1888.

In August, 1888, the Tarboro Southerner reported that, " the republican party in this county is completely captured by the Knights of Labor."

In July 1889, brothers of Fidelity Assembly Local 7949 and sisters of Rosebud Assembly Local 195 held a rally at the St. Stephen Missionary Baptist Church in Tarboro that was reported in the national Journal of United Labor (July 9, 1889).

In September 1889, members of the Knights of Labor went on strike on cotton plantations in the Old Sparta area demanding 50 cents a day plus board and 40 cents per hundred pounds of cotton picked.

In October 1889, eleven locals were represented at the Edgecombe County convention of the Knights of Labor.

The movement of local assemblies of the Knights of Labor among black farm workers was part of the "agrarian revolt" in North Carolina and also across the U.S. in these years beginning in 1886 and 1887 that also included white farmers joining the Southern Farmers Alliance and black farmers organizing the Colored Farmers Alliance. On a national level as well as state level, this movement led to the formation of the Peoples or Populist Party in 1892 and in North Carolina to the interracial Republican-Populist coalition called "fusion" that won a majority in N.C. General Assembly 1894-1898.

For more information, call Jim Wrenn at 641-0294 or by email to