#CelebrateBlackHistory – The Honorable G.K. Butterfield

Who or what inspired you to get involved in politics?

My father. My father immigrated from Bermuda and to my mother’s town in North Carolina, married her, and became a dentist. The White establishment in the town told my father that they would give him the “privilege” of skipping the literacy test and being allowed to vote. This insulted my father and he began to do intensive voter registration in the community. My father began to gain traction with getting Black people to overcome passing the literacy test, and in 1928 he was threatened and told to stop his efforts. My father stopped for a while, and then organized the National Association for the Advancement of Color People (NAACP) in the community to focus on voter registration.

In 1953, when I was 7, my father ran for city council in our ward and focused on turning out the Black community to vote. My father and his opponent received the exact same amount of votes. My father received support from the Black community, his opponent’s came from the White community. In order to break the tie, they put my father’s and his opponent’s name in a hat, blindfolded a little White girl, and had her pick a name. She picked my father’s name, and he became the fourth Black elected official in North Carolina since Reconstruction.

When my father was up for re-election again in 1958, they changed the voting system. Elections were no longer by ward, but at-large, requiring candidates to run city-wide. This meant he would have to receive enough White votes to retain his seat. On Election Day, my father came in last place during the election. The NAACP became involved and filed a lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled against the NAACP.

Watching all of this unfold, made a profound impression on my now then 10 year old self. It is the reason that I became involved in politics and became a lawyer. My father’s legacy has led me in this direction, and I continue to honor it today.

Why are you a Democrat?

The Democratic Party values of the 21st century align with the values of African Americans.  The Democratic Party cares about alleviating poverty and growing the middle class, and that is the most appealing to African American voters and me. The Republican Party agenda is not about throwing a lifeline to those in need of achieving the American Dream, and their theory that wealth and power trickles down to the middle class has only led to flat wages for American workers while corporations are getting richer.

It is the Democratic Party that is leveling the playing field with good wages and creating 21st century jobs. There is a stark difference between Democrats and Republicans, and it is clear the Democratic agenda is the one that supports the African American community.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

We need to celebrate Black history every day of the year. When I was younger, it was called Negro History Week and it evolved into an entire month. It is important for not only African Americans, but for all Americans to understand the evolution of Black people from slavery to freedom, and now from freedom to parity. Every American needs to not only understand this history, but how all periods of African American history are connected.


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