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'Because It Is Honest and Fair'

'Because It Is Honest and Fair'

This is the first of periodic posts that celebrate the 50th anniversary of the North Carolina Fund, leading up to a week of activities later this fall, including a special lecture and panel discussion at MDC on November 12, 2013, as part of the MDC Lecture Series.

Today: a short history lesson that is long on legacy. MDC was established in 1967 on the solid foundation of the North Carolina Fund. The N.C. Fund, established by Governor Terry Sanford in 1963, was in operation for five years; however, that intentionally short tenure laid the groundwork for decades of commitment and action for a more integrated and equitable North Carolina. Addressing Poverty in North Carolina, part of the Institute for Emerging Issues’ Commons, is a two-minute introduction to the N.C. Fund, the brainchild of Governor Sanford’s “one man think tank,” John Ehle. The Fund marshaled employers, educators, philanthropists, and community organizers to create local programs to address local needs across the state—from stores selling local artisans’ handiwork to laying water pipe to establishing building codes for low-income housing. (And let’s not forget the Friendly Home Visitors, a public health program that addressed nutrition, hygiene, and family-planning needs.) Not only did the intensive work of the N.C. Fund lead to organizations like MDC and the Affordable Housing Group, the “top down/bottom up” approach was influential in the development of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.

Agenda setting is the subject of a second video, Governor Sanford’s “Second Emancipation” speech to the North Carolina Press Association in January 1963. Sanford urged his audience—“people who have so much to do with the attitudes of the citizens of the state”—to consider that, 100 years beyond the Emancipation Proclamation, African Americans in North Carolina were still denied access to good jobs and opportunities for education. He insisted that creating opportunities for all citizens would add new economic growth for the entire state and pledged that “in North Carolina, we will attempt to provide leadership for the kind of understanding that America needs today.” Sanford then laid out a plan for state and local “Good Neighbor Councils” and other efforts to engage local governments, the business community, and civic groups in efforts to examine and reform policies that were blocking opportunities for African-American citizens—and blocking North Carolina’s opportunity for broader economic success. Sanford urged this action because “it is honest and fair to give all men and women the best in life,” and he believed that “with people like you concerned, we cannot fail.” The North Carolina Fund was a critical part of Sanford’s concern and commitment, which continued long after his tenure in the organizations and leaders that were part of the effort. (Please visit To Right These Wrongs to learn about a book and film that tell the story of the North Carolina Fund.)