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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 late nineteenth and twentieth century United States and African American history with areas of specialization in civil rights and black business history. My first book, tentatively titled New South Prosperity: John Hervey Wheeler, Black Banking, and the Economic Struggle for Civil Rights, is under contract with the University Press of Kentucky in the "Civil Rights and the Struggle for Black Equality in the Twentieth Century" series.

New South Prosperity combines black business and civil rights history to provide a lucid response to calls from historians to place more emphasis on economics to better understand the broader goals and objectives of the modern civil rights movement. The book asks us to reconsider how we view the role of black business—often criticized as too conservative, largely absent, or non-supportive—during the civil rights movement. It examines the black freedom struggle through the career and activism of prominent banker and civil rights lawyer John H. Wheeler (1908-1978)—one of the nation's savviest behind-the-scenes black power brokers. In 1952, he became president of the Mechanics and Farmers Bank (M&F Bank), at the time the third largest black-owned bank in the country located in Durham, North Carolina. It was a sister institution to the renowned North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, the largest black-owned insurance company in the world. During the 1960s, Wheeler was the state's most influential black leader and among the top civil rights figures in the South. Despite being a central figure in the history of the civil rights movement in the Tar Heel State, he has yet to receive our scholarly attention. Yet the goals and objectives of the civil rights movement, as they relate to economics, become quite clear when we consider the perspective of a black banker. The book examines themes such as race, power, citizenship, institution building, generational leadership, and public policy advocacy to reexamine the contributions black businesspeople made to the civil rights movement. Wheeler joined a generation of black Americans during the Great Depression that rejected the inward turn toward economic uplift alone as the only path toward full citizenship. He worked to prioritize racial equality and economic justice for black people in the South in particular, and the United States more broadly between the 1930s and 1970s.

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

MA, North Carolina Central University (2007)

BA, North Carolina Central University (2005)

Selected Publications

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)

 "Black Intellectuals and their Inability to Maintain Balance Between the White Dominated Society and the Black Community" North Carolina Central University Undergraduate Research Journal, 8 (Spring 2005)

Book Reviews

Book Review of Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015) by Talitha L. LeFlouria (forthcoming, Agricultural History)

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

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

Book Review of 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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