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Durham federal courthouse named for late civil rights icon

RA Brian Stern and GSA SESB staff joined Rep. G. K. Butterfield to unveil sign for newly named Wheeler US Courthouse

DURHAM, N.C.—The U.S. General Services Administration today joined with the Durham, North Carolina, community and the family of the famed banker and attorney John Hervey Wheeler to celebrate the naming of the city’s federal courthouse after the late North Carolina-native and civil rights leader.

Rep. G. K. Butterfield of North Carolina led the official unveiling of the sign on the newly designated John Hervey Wheeler U.S. Courthouse during the special ceremony hosted by GSA and the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.

“On July 27, 2017, I was proud to introduce H.R. 3460, a bill to rename the U.S. Courthouse in Durham after John Hervey Wheeler. H.R. 3460 was passed in the House of Representatives on July 16, 2018, and was passed in the Senate on December 21, 2018,” said Butterfield. “John Hervey Wheeler was a living legend throughout the South. He was not just a banker and lawyer; he was a visionary African American leader. Over his long and remarkable career, John Hervey Wheeler played a key role in transforming the City of Durham and helped lead the fight for racial equality in Durham and throughout North Carolina. I am happy the Durham courthouse will now be named in John Hervey Wheeler’s honor and his contribution to Durham will long be remembered. This dedication will serve as a symbol of triumph over racial and economic injustice.”

The bill naming of the courthouse after Wheeler was signed into law on January 3, 2019, honoring his commitment to equality and his work during the Civil Rights Movement.

“When we name a building, we’re honoring the accomplishments of great Americans who inspire us to help make our nation a better place for all people,” said Brian Stern, regional administrator for GSA’s Southeast Sunbelt Region. “John Hervey Wheeler distinguished himself as a banker, attorney, and civil rights leader for the Durham community, the state of North Carolina and our country. It is an honor to commemorate his legacy today with the naming of this courthouse.”

About John Hervey Wheeler

Born in 1908, John Hervey Wheeler began serving his community after graduating from Morehouse College in 1929. Following graduation he started his decades-long career with Mechanics & Farmers Bank in Durham. After becoming the bank’s president in 1952, Wheeler led the charge to create previously unavailable affordable lending opportunities for African-American families, breaking down barriers to entrepreneurship.

After graduating law school in 1947, Wheeler led several legal battles against North Carolina’s segregated educational system, including the U.S. Supreme Court case Frasier v. Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina. 

Thanks to his work supporting civil rights, Wheeler was appointed to President John F. Kennedy’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity—now called the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—in 1961.

Over his lifetime, he received multiple awards and accolades, including honorary degrees and doctorates from Morehouse College, North Carolina Central University, Duke University, Shaw University, Johnson C. Smith University and Tuskegee University. He passed away on July 6, 1978, at the age of 70.


About GSA:

The mission of the U.S. General Services Administration is to deliver value and savings in real estate, acquisition, technology and other mission-support services across the government. 

GSA’s Southeast Sunbelt Region delivers real estate, technology and procurement solutions to government and the American people in eight states, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

To learn more about GSA visit or join the conversation on social media at @USGSA, @US_GSAR4 and @GSAEmily.