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Golden Asro Frinks
Golden Asro Frinks (August 15, 1920 – July 19, 2004) was an American civil rights activist and a Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) field secretary who represented the New Bern, North Carolina SCLC chapter. He is best known as a principal civil rights organizer in North Carolina during the 1960s which landed him a reputation as “The Great Agitator,” having been jailed eighty-seven times during his lifetime.
Frinks was also a United States Army veteran who fought in World War II and worked at the U.S naval base in Norfolk, Virginia. After his military career, he began promoting equality for African Americans through organized demonstrations. Frinks’ involvement in the Civil Rights Movement brought early civil rights victories to North Carolina, and his willingness to engage in nonviolent, direct action served as a catalyst for civil rights movements in Edenton and nearby towns.
After becoming a field secretary of the SCLC, Frinks built a close relationship with Martin Luther King Jr. and often worked with the civil rights leader in organizing desegregation movements until King’s death in 1968. Frinks’ work as a field secretary and his direct actions against the Jim Crow Laws began a new era for the civil rights movement in North Carolina and the desegregation of the South.
Golden Asro Frinks was born to Mark and Kizzie Frinks on August 15th, 1920 in the small town of Wampee, South Carolina and is the tenth of eleven children in the Frinks family. His unusual name came from a profound “golden text” that Frinks’ mother witnessed at Sunday services just before Frinks was born that afternoon.
At the age of nine, Frinks moved to Tabor City, North Carolina. This small town served as the primary location for Frinks’ childhood. Frinks’ father, Mark Frinks, worked as a millwright while mother, Kizzie Frinks, worked as a domestic helper for the town’s mayor, J.L. Lewis. Not long after moving to Tabor City, Frinks’ father died and Frinks’ mother was left to take care of the large household. As a single parent, her strong will and determination made a lasting impact on Frinks during his childhood. She taught her children not to conform to society’s status quo, but strive for the change they wanted. This influence will later set the stage for Frinks’ outlook on life and push him to fight for racial equality.
Another key person during Frinks’ childhood was Fannie Lewis, the wife of the town mayor who Frinks’ mother worked for. Having lost her son at an early age, Lewis took special interest in Frinks and viewed him as a surrogate son. Her relationship with Frinks brought him into the social sphere of the white community in Tabor City, exposing him to ideas and knowledge that black children rarely experience. During that time, the Jim Crow Laws, racial segregation laws that were enacted after the Reconstruction period which segregated public facilities in the former Confederate states, were widely observed in the South and strict racial segregation was enforced below the Mason–Dixon line. Having learned about the South’s racial culture, attempts at desegregation, and the rise of prominent black leaders from Lewis, Frinks developed ideas of rebellion against the Jim Crow Laws and discrimination in the South at a young age.
At the age of sixteen, Frinks left Tabor City and set off to enlist in the United States Navy in Norfolk, Virginia. After a brief detour in the city of Edenton, North Carolina, Frinks arrived at Norfolk and secured a job at US naval base. It was at Norfolk where Frinks first learned about the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) through the politically active black community in the city.
Returning to Edenton in 1942, Frinks married Mildred Ruth Holley and they had a daughter, Goldie Frinks. Soon after, Frinks briefly served in the United States Army as a staff sergeant during World War II. After the war, Frinks moved to the District of Columbia in 1948 to seek new job opportunities. In Washington D.C. Frinks had his first encounter with civil rights activity. In January, 1953, while working at Waylie’s Drug Store, Frinks saw his employer refuse to serve lunch to a group of black teens and was deeply bothered by the injustice he witnessed. The event prompted him to join a six-month-long picketing campaign on the drug store. For an hour a day, Frinks led the protest in front of the drug store and brought together other blacks to demand the desegregation of the store. Through his persistency, Frinks learned that continuous picketing and organized group protests deteriorated the strength of the Jim Crow Laws, resulting in the Supreme Court to rule on June 8, 1953 that “segregated eating facilities in Washington, D.C. were unconstitutional.” While small in magnitude, the drug store sit-in gave Frinks a taste of civil rights victory and cemented his commitment to help fight segregation using the tactics he learned.
Frinks soon left D.C. and returned to Edenton. There, he became actively involved with his family in the Chowan County Branch of the NAACP and served as secretary of the chapter. It was during his time in the NAACP that Frinks realized a major issue with black activism is the unwillingness of some black leaders to actively engage in civil rights activity. At the annual NAACP town meeting on March 3, 1960, the local chapter president refused to support a petition by black children in the town to desegregate the local theater in fear of losing his real estate holdings by supporting such a movement. On March 4, 1960, Frinks resigned from his position in the local NAACP and proceeded to organize his own protest with children from the NAACP Youth Council using the experience he learned from his first protest in Washington, D.C. The protest on the theater was a success and its victory help spread Frinks’ name as a North Carolina civil rights activist.
Ironically, the hesitancy of the local NAACP chapter to challenge segregation motivated Frinks to take his own direct actions. In the months following the first victory, Frinks began what is known as the Edenton Movement. The Edenton Movement was the series of protests and pickets throughout the early 1960s to desegregate public locations in Edenton, North Carolina. Frinks led the town’s young activists to participate in his desegregation effort and made them the main participants of the movement. Their efforts helped successfully desegregate several public locations in Edenton including the courthouse, library, and the historically white John A. Holmes High School.
Nationally, the Edenton Movement put the small town on the civil rights radar. This attention brought animosity from the white community towards Frinks and his supporters because many whites viewed the movement as a disturbance to peace in the town. Thus, as the leader of the movement, Frinks constantly faced threats and acts of hatred. In one instance, local whites burnt a cross in Frinks’ yard and left a dead rabbit on the porch with an ominous message stating that Frinks will “end up like this rabbit if he does not stop protesting.” In an interview with Dr. Goldie Wells, Frinks recalled that there were moments when he feared for his life and the safety of his family but “kept praying and kept marching,” demonstrating his resilience and commitment to his cause.
In 1962, Frinks was first arrested during the Edenton Movement for a demonstration at a theater when Frinks refused to stop what police considered “unlawful picketing.” This incident was the first of Frinks’ eighty-seven self-reported arrests for civil rights demonstrations throughout his lifetime. While direct, Frinks’ methods for picketing often irritated law enforcement, leading to his frequent arrests and earning him the nickname of “The Great Agitator.” During one particular protest in 1962, Frinks was arrested along with several teenagers from the community. The NAACP agreed to pay off Frinks’ bail but refused to pay for the teens, citing that it was the responsibility of the parents to pay for their children. News quickly spread and got to Martin Luther King, Jr. the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The SCLC is a nationally recognized African-American civil rights organization which operated through several regional chapters that promoted activism and desegregation in the south during the civil rights movement. Frinks’ relationship with the SCLC began when King sent funds to bail all the protestors out of jail after the NAACP refused to pay for the other demonstrators.
Throughout the Edenton Movement, King and other SCLC leaders such as Reverend Fred LaGarde, the SCLC’s regional representative for northeastern North Carolina, followed the demonstrations and protests closely and noted Frinks’ enthusiasm towards civil rights activity in his town. Thus, in 1963, when the SCLC sought a field organizer in North Carolina, King requested Frinks to meet him face-to-face in Norfolk, Virginia with two character witnesses. Frinks brought his pastor and SCLC representative, Reverend LaGarde, and longtime friend, Norman Brinkley, to vouch for his character. When Dr. King met Frinks in Norfolk, he hired Frinks as one of the twelve national SCLC Field Secretaries. As a field secretary, Frinks was in charge of overseeing the desegregation efforts in North Carolina. However, in the following months Frinks also traveled to other states including Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Kentucky to scout out the locations and make sure it was fit for King’s arrival.
Through his position as field secretary of the SCLC, Frinks worked closely with King on many occasions and was constantly organizing civil rights activities. His relationship with the civil rights leader and new position helped fuel his activism and gave him the resources to begin campaigns in his hometown of Edenton and other rural areas of North Carolina.