Friday, January 22, 2010

Harvey E. Beech

What an absolutely horrible day of painting! Nearly a complete waste of time. I was working on the portrait of George White and needless to say, I must have insulted the man in some other life because he was not cooperating. I had to re-sketch him many times before both of us were happy. I tried to apply some paint but apparently he had had enough and finally told me to walk away and leave him alone until tomorrow. Hopefully both of us will benefit from a decent meal and a good night of sleep and tomorrow we can begin again.

The dapper Mr. Harvey Beech on the other hand couldn't have been more pleasant. I have a few tweaks that will occur after George and I settle our dispute tomorrow but other than that, we're both smiling.

click to enlarge
Harvey E. Beech was born in Kinston, North Carolina, in 1923, the youngest of five children. Although Beech's father could not read or write, he saved his money and opened barbershops throughout the Kinston community. His business acumen afforded most of his children the opportunity to attend college. His youngest son, Harvey, however, was sent to Harris Barber College in Raleigh, North Carolina, since his older siblings' education had taken its toll on their father's bank account. Harvey's academic drive and passion for education led him to pursue a college degree. He earned enough money to attend Morehouse College, and his self-reliance, independence, and passion for changing social injustices propelled his interest in a legal career. To earn money for law school, he promoted black entertainers and opened a general store. In the early 1950s, Thurgood Marshall asked Beech to join a pending case against the University of North Carolina School of Law. Beech joined the case, along with J. Kenneth Lee. In 1951, Beech and Lee, along with James Lassiter, Floyd McKissick, and James Walker, became the first African American students to enroll at the UNC law school. Beech candidly discusses the psychological impact of desegregating an all-white institution, including his anger at having to give up his swimming pool privileges because of his race. He evaluates the strength of racism in American society, while adamantly arguing that the abandonment of racial discrimination and racial identities would eliminate barriers among all races and ethnicities.

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