Gloucester native broke down racial, gender barriers

by Sherry Hamilton - Posted on Mar 20, 2013 - 02:16 PM

Photo: The late Miriam Johnson Carter is featured in a display on integration at the Swem Library at the College of William and Mary.

The late Miriam Johnson Carter is featured in a display on integration at the Swem Library at the College of William and Mary.

The late Miriam Johnson Carter tore down racial and gender barriers in 1955 as the first African American woman admitted as a student at the College of William and Mary.

Now, nearly six decades later, the Gloucester native is being recognized as part of an exhibit at the university’s Swem Library. "‘The Inevitable Present’: Integration at William & Mary" will be on display through Aug. 13.

Miriam graduated from Philadelphia Normal School in 1929 and began teaching elementary school. But the next year she fell in love with a hometown man, G. Nelson Carter, and in 1932 they married. She set aside her teaching career to be a housewife and helpmate to her husband, working in the office of the family business, Carter Funeral Home. Eventually, the couple had two sons, Frederick and George N. Carter Jr.

But Nelson Carter became the first president of the Tri-County NAACP in 1941, and his political activism began to affect the family business. In 1944, he became involved in the landmark Irene Morgan segregation case, and in 1947, he brought suit against the Gloucester County School Board that called for equal school facilities for blacks. Teachers, who were not allowed to join the NAACP, were pressured not to use his services, said Fred Carter, and business declined.

It was decided that Miriam would accept a job teaching in Philadelphia, where salaries were substantial, in order to "keep things going." Sons Fred and George spent their formative years there, visiting their home in Gloucester whenever possible.