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Brandon Winford

Assistant Professor


"The tragedy in life doesn't lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach."

   —Benjamin E. Mays


I am a historian of the late nineteenth and twentieth century United States and the African American experience, and my research focuses on the relationship between civil rights and black capitalism. My first book, John Hervey Wheeler, Black Banking, and the Economic Struggle for Civil Rights (University Press of Kentucky, 2019), combines black business and civil rights history to explain how economic concerns shaped the goals and objectives of the black freedom struggle.


John Hervey Wheeler (1908–1978) was one of the civil rights movement’s most influential leaders. In articulating a bold vision of regional prosperity grounded in full citizenship and economic power for African Americans, this banker, lawyer, and visionary would play a key role in the fight for racial and economic equality throughout North Carolina.

Utilizing previously unexamined sources from the John Hervey Wheeler Collection at the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library, this biography explores the black freedom struggle through the life of North Carolina’s most influential black power broker. After graduating from Morehouse College, Wheeler returned to Durham and began a decades-long career at Mechanics and Farmers (M&F) Bank. He started as a teller and rose to become bank president in 1952. In 1961, President Kennedy appointed Wheeler to the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, a position in which he championed equal rights for African Americans and worked with Vice President Johnson to draft civil rights legislation. One of the first blacks to attain a high position in the state’s Democratic Party, Wheeler became the state party’s treasurer in 1968, and then its financial director.

Wheeler urged North Carolina’s white financial advisors to steer the region toward the end of Jim Crow segregation for economic reasons. Straddling the line between confrontation and negotiation, Wheeler pushed for increased economic opportunity for African Americans while reminding the white South that its future was linked to the plight of black southerners.


I am the co-founder of the Fleming-Morrow Endowment in African American History. The endowment is named in honor of Drs. Cynthia Griggs Fleming and John H. Morrow, Jr., two pioneer black faculty members in the College of Arts and Sciences and our predecessors in the history department. The goal is to provide funding for an annual lecture and student prizes in the fields of civil rights and military history.


Research Interests

The New South, Black Business History, Black Banking, Civil Rights, Race Relations, History of Black Education, Politics, the War on Poverty, Urban Renewal, Liberalism, North Carolina History, Biography, and Public History.


PhD, United States History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2014)

MA, North Carolina Central University (2007)

BA, North Carolina Central University (2005)

Selected Publications


John Hervey Wheeler, Black Banking, and the Economic Struggle for Civil Rights (University Press of Kentucky, 2019)


Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles


" 'The Bright Sunshine of a New Day': John Hervey Wheeler, Black Business, and Civil Rights in North Carolina, 1929-1964," North Carolina Historical Review 93 (July 2016)


Book Reviews


The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap (2017) by Mehrsa Baradaran, Enterprise & Society 20 (September 2019)


Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South (2015) by Talitha L. LeFlouria, Agricultural History 91 (Fall 2017)


 The Cambridge Guide to African American History (2016) by Raymond Gavins, North Carolina Historical Review 94 (January 2017)


Civil Rights in the Texas Borderlands: Dr. Lawrence A. Nixon and Black Activism (2015) by Will Guzmán, Journal of Southern History 82 (August 2016)


Upbuilding Black Durham: Gender, Class, and Black Community Development in the Jim Crow South (2008) by Leslie Brown, North Carolina Historical Review 87 (April 2010) 

Blog Entries

"To Be Proud of Being Who We Are: Remembering Leslie Brown," African American Intellectual History Society, August 14, 2016


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