By Associated Press - Friday, January 17, 2020

WILSON, N.C. (AP) - Wilson County plans to add four new historical markers this year to commemorate African-American heroes, including a 1946 effort to organize tobacco workers.

Called Operation Dixie, the unionization effort was led by black women demanding better working conditions in the tobacco industry.

“They led a walk-out, and this was particularly significant because they were minority women leading this walkout, and it really started a movement,” B. Perry Morrison, Jr., representing the Wilson County Historical Association, told members of the Wilson tourism board.

The state unveiled a historical marker in Rocky Mount in 2011. The local chapter of the Tobacco Workers International Union formed in Wilson in 1946.

Other markers to be unveiled in Wilson this year will honor the Wilson Normal and Industrial Institute, Dr. Frank S. Hargrave, and Charles H. Darden, the Wilson Times reported.

The marker for Hargrave describes him as the founder of Mercy Hospital, which treated African Americans in an era when even hospitals were segregated by race. In 1914, he was elected president of the National Medical Association, which was the African American equivalent of the American Medical Association.

Darden’s marker says he established the first African American funeral business in Wilson in 1875.

The Wilson Normal and Industrial Institute opened after African Americans boycotted public schools to protest teacher Mary Euell being slapped by the county school superintendent. It operated from about 1918 to 1928.

“They are very significant parts of our history, and it will be exciting to commemorate them,” Morrison said.

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