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John H. Wheeler collection

 Collection — Box: 1-225
Identifier: 0000-0000-0000-0133
This collection documents the life and work of John H. Wheeler, a businessman, bank president, community leader, civil rights activist, and lawyer. The collection spans the years from 1897 to 1978 with the bulk of the materials dating from 1950-1978. The majority of the collections consists of items related to the organizations that Wheeler was associated with, both local to Durham, NC and national organizations. Included in the collection are materials related to Wheeler's career as a President of the Mechanics and Farmers Bank, located in Durham, NC. along with the financial records of civil rights and civic organizations that worked with Mechanics and Farmers Bank. Mechanics and Farmers Bank was a black-owned financial institution in a city that boasted several thriving black enterprises, including the North Caroline Mutual Life Insurance Company (N.C. Mutual).

Beyond his work as a businessman, Wheeler also served as a civil rights leader both in North Carolina and nationally through his work in many organizations. This collection documents his extensive civil rights work through meeting minutes, correspondence, founding documents, organizational records, financial records, and reports from the various committees, commissions, and organizations in which Wheeler served. Notable materials include documents from Wheeler's time as the chairman of the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs, and his service as the first Black president of the Southern Regional Council, an Atlanta-based interracial civil rights organization engaged in research and publication that influenced policy-makers. The collection also includes Wheeler's records during several presidential appointments in both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, most notably on the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity. The Governor of North Carolina also appointed Wheeler as the first Black delegate to represent North Carolina at the Democratic National Convention in 1964. Materials include Wheeler's interest and work with several urban housing projects including; the Commission on Race and Housing, the Commission on Urban and Slum Problems, and the City of Durham Community Development Housing Rehabilitation program. Other notable organizations in the collection include Wheeler's work with the US-South Africa Leader Exchange Program, the North Carolina Fund, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and his work with the Lincoln Hospital located in Durham, NC.

The collection reflects Wheeler's other interests beyond his civic and civil rights work, including his participation in the American Tennis Association, his membership in the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, and his membership in the Prince Hall Masons. Additionally, Wheeler collected pamphlets, newspaper articles, programs and brochures related to music, the theater, and poetry. Other personal papers such as certificates, degrees, and awards Wheeler received throughout his life-time, along with scrapbooks and photo albums that document his travels, family vacations, and personal interests. A small portion of Wheeler's writings speeches, and personal correspondence are also included.


  • 1897-1978
  • Majority of material found within 1940-1978


Rights Statement

All materials in this collection are either protected by copyright or are the property of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Inc., and/or the copyright holder as appropriate. For more information, please contact


109 Linear feet

Biographical note

John Hervey Wheeler (January 1, 1908-July 6, 1978) was a prominent African American bank president, civil rights lawyer, political activist, civic leader, educator, statesman, and philanthropist. He was also an accomplished violinist and avid tennis player. On Christmas Day 1935, Wheeler married the former Selena Lucille Warren (1912-2014), the daughter of Julia McCauley and Dr. Stanford L. Warren, a co-founder and one time president of the Mechanics and Farmers Bank (M

John Hervey Wheeler Timeline
Born January 1, 1908, Kittrell College Campus
J. L. Wheeler moves his family to Atlanta, GA
John H. Wheeler begins attending Morehouse Academy.
Graduates from Morehouse Academy and enters Morehouse College.
Receives A.B. Degree in Business Adminsitration and graduates Summa Cum Laude from Morehouse College. Moves to Durham, NC to work as a bank teller at Mechanics and Farmers Bank.
Appointed as a board member of the Colored Library, later named the Stanford L. Warren Public Library
Employed by the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company as Member of its Securities and Investment Committee.
Becomes a member on the Board of Trustees at Atlanta University and Morehouse College. Marries the former Miss Selena L. Warren.
First child, Julia Wheeler, was born on April 4.
Elected as cashier of Mechanics and Farmers Bank.
Begins attending night classes at the N.C. College Law School.
Elected Vice-President of Mechanics and Farmers Bank. Becomes a member of the Durham Advisory Committee.
Graduates law school from N.C. College with his LL.B Degree. Admitted to practice law in North Carolina.
On May 18, 1949 black Durham school aged children and their parents file suit against the Durham Public School District alleging 480 that the “defendants are depriving the plaintiffs of their rights under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States in that the Negro school children are being denied the equal protection of the law, on account of their race and color, by discriminating against them in the public school facilities. Wheeler argues case for Equalized Educational Facilities in Durham, NC along with attorney M. Hugh Thompson and law firm Hill, Martin and Robinson of Richmond, VA. NCC Law students file suit aimed at getting them admitted to the School of Law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, arguing that facilities there were better. Wheeler serves as a member of the suits legal counsel.
Wheeler becomes President of the Mechanics and Farmers Bank, Durham, NC.
Admitted to practice law in U. S. Supreme Court.
Becomes Chairman of the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs (1957-1978). Father J. L. Wheeler dies on March 30, 1957.
Becomes a member of the Durham Redevelopment Commission.
Becomes member of President John F. Kennedy’s committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, headed by Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Holds Doctor of Humanities (L. H. D.) Honorary Degree conferred by Tuskegee Institute.
Elected President of the Southern Regional Council (1964-1969).
Serves as representative of the secretary of commerce to the International Trade Fair in Tripoli.
Wheeler is appointed by Governor Sanford to serve on the North Carolina Fund’s Board of Directors.
Appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to a team of Americans visiting the Republic of Germany to review progress under the Marshall Plan.
Governor Terry Sanford names Wheeler as an at-large delegate from North Carolina to the National Democratic convention, the first black from North Carolina to be a delegate to the national convention.
Becomes president of North Carolina Low Income Housing Development Corporation.
President Johnson appoints Wheeler one of the incorporators of the National Housing Corporation authorized by the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968.
Becomes a Board member of the Soul City Foundation, Inc.
Sunday, January 4, 1976, formal dedication of John H. Wheeler Hall, Social Sciences 484 and Business Administration Building, is named in his honor.
Dies on July 6, 1978. John H. Wheeler Foundation is established.


This collection is arranged into six series: 1. Personal Papers, 2. Organizations, 3. Writings by Wheeler, 4. Writings by Others, 5. Printed and Published Materials, and 6. Audio/Visual materials.

Processing Note

Special Thanks to Dr. Brandon Winford who assisted in processing the John H. Wheeler collection and conitues to help support the use of the collection.
John H. Wheeler Collection, 1897-1978
Finding prepared by Sarah Tanner, January 2016
2016 January 1
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Inc. Repository

111 James P. Brawley Drive, SW
Atlanta 30314 USA
404-978-2109 (Fax)