Remembering Margaret Alexander: The Mother of Charlotte’s Civil Rights Movement | WFAE 90.7
Margaret Gilreece Alexander, affectionately known as “Mother Margaret”, died in her sleep last Friday at the age of 97.
Alexander was married to Kelly Alexander Sr., a prominent civil rights advocate in North Carolina. He is also known for his strong support for the Supreme Court case, Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education that buses could be used to integrate schools.
Her husband was also the state president of the NAACP and later served as chairman of the national NAACP board of directors, and she served as its executive secretary.
“She would proofread and prep pretty much all of my dads speeches,” Kelly Alexander Jr said. “He would write them first, and she would type them, and my brother and I would be the guinea pig audience because he loved practicing .”
Additionally, Margaret Alexander organized the NAACP’s Friendship Junior Youth Council, one of the first church-based junior youth councils within the organization in the nation.
Young Alexander said his mother was not consumed by being in the spotlight.
“She was very happy to play, in her mind, a supporting role. She saw herself as supporting her husband’s civil rights activities, his business activities and supporting his children. What we were doing – and it was sometimes difficult for her to understand the impact it has had, especially for the younger generation,” young Alexandre said.
Margaret Alexander was born on September 20, 1924 to Alberta Alexander and Eulie Lester Gilreece Alexander. She was born and raised in deeply segregated Charlotte and raised in the First Ward neighborhood. Margret said during the 2001 oral history interview in a collection on civil rights and desegregation at UNC Charlotte that her father was an entrepreneur, and even though she was living during segregation, she wanted nothing, and they taught her that she was never below anyone else. .
She graduated from Second Ward High School in 1942, the same year she met her husband when she was the school’s May Queen, and he was a reporter for an African-American newspaper. During her senior year, the two were married while she was attending what is now Central University of North Carolina. She then obtained her diploma in commercial education.
The couple had two sons, Kelly Alexander Jr., born in 1948, a Democratic member of the North Carolina General Assembly, and Alfred L. Alexander, born in 1952, who is president and CEO of Alexander Funeral Home, one of the oldest black-owned businesses in Mecklenburg County.
Young Alexander said his mother had had a significant influence on his political career. She encouraged her sons to study to advance and advance their community.
The Alexander House was a gathering place for civil rights activists, such as Thurgood Marshall. Kelly Alexander described it as a Grand Central station, and people came to stay overnight or dine if they were passing through Charlotte.
Because her husband was very outspoken about racial equality, the couple knew they could have their lives threatened.
In the 2001 oral history, Margaret Alexander spoke of her experiences living in Jim Crow times and described one of her most frightening experiences.
One stormy night in September 1965, the Alexander family awoke to the sound of an explosion and the smell of sulfur. She saw the blown front door and the glass covering the floor. A bomb was placed in front of the front door. The fact that the couple and their sons slept in their bedroom rather than the living room saved their lives that night.
The bombing was one of four that night that targeted civil rights activists in Charlotte.
“We have already received phone calls [the bombing]we knew we were taking a risk, but it had to be done – it was scary, but you can’t live in fear,” said Margaret Alexander.
Reflecting on his mother’s resilience, young Alexander said, “One of the reasons domestic terrorists did things like that was to scare people. They especially wanted to scare women. They thought wives would immediately start pressuring their husbands involved in the movement to get involved in something else.”
This did not happen in the case of Margaret Alexander.
“If anything, it strengthened her resolve to support Dad, what he was doing in the civil rights movement, and to continue what she was doing,” young Alexander said.
She continued to advise people and to share the wealth of personal experience she had gained in almost a century of life.
“In these troubled times, it’s important that someone has that kind of constant influence,” young Alexander said.
Funeral services for Margaret Alexander will be held Monday, June 13 at noon at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, 3301 Beatties Ford Rd., Charlotte, NC 28216.