• Civil rights pioneer to be honored

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    MCDOWELL COUNTY, N.C.,None - On Saturday, a road in Old Fort will bear the name of a local man who made a courageous and heroic stand for the cause of civil rights.

    Catawba View Missionary Baptist Church will hold a special dedication program at 11 a.m. Saturday. The church is located at 141 Baptist Side Road.

    However, that road will no longer be called by that name. The service on Saturday at the church will celebrate the renaming of Baptist Side Road as Albert Joyner Drive. The new name honors the late Joyner, whose courageous stand in the 1950s on behalf of civil rights and equality in Old Fort would earn him honors more than 50 years later. Joyner passed away last July at the age of 86.

    The service will feature presentations about Joyner’s life and legacy. Mayor Garland Norton and the Old Fort Board of Aldermen are scheduled to be there along with McDowell County officials.

    The town of Old Fort has declared Saturday as “Albert Joyner Day.”

    “Albert Joyner was a model citizen and role model for us all,” reads the town’s proclamation.

    Other letters and proclamations honoring Joyner will be read at the service, said Otis Keaton, who is helping to organize it.

    In August 1955, Joyner escorted five black students to the all-white Old Fort School so they could get an education there. He and the students walked past a crowd of some 300 to 400 white people, who did not want to see the school integrated. Joyner and the five elementary school students were turned away by school officials.

    The event made national news as one of the first attempts to integrate a school in the South following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision. It took place before the more famous bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala. which involved Rosa Parks and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

    Five years before, the school for black students in Old Fort was closed down. The parents were faced with the prospect of sending their children to the segregated school in Marion. In September 1950, black children protested in the streets of Old Fort so they could keep their school open. However, it was closed and the wooden building was demolished. A petition bearing 90 signatures was sent to the school officials asking that the black students in Old Fort be allowed to attend school with white students.

    And so in August 1955, Joyner stepped up and took an enormous risk escorting these children to Old Fort School so they could attend classes there. Police kept the crowd on the sides as the group walked down the middle of the street. When they arrived at the school, the principal met Joyner at the door and told the small group they couldn’t enroll.

    Six days after he walked to the school, Joyner was in the downtown with his sister and some of his children when a man walked by and punched him, knocking him into a fountain. His sister ran to the nearby a drug store to call the police. The police chief issued a warrant not only for the man who attacked Joyner but also for Joyner himself, according to a 2004 article in The McDowell News.

    Joyner’s role in the attempt to integrate Old Fort School would be remembered more than 55 years later. In February 2011, Catawba View Missionary Baptist paid tribute to him with a special service. Joyner was a long-time member and deacon at Catawba View Missionary Baptist. By that time, he was in frail health and he attended the service in a wheelchair.

    The Rev. Ronald A. Sullivan, pastor of the church, said Thursday that Joyner was a great man and a role model for others. And that description applies to his entire life and not just what he did in 1955. Sullivan said that after Joyner retired from his work at the VA Hospital, he devoted himself to beautifying his neighborhood by planting flowers.

    “(Joyner) took money out of his own pocket to beautify the area,” said Sullivan. “People came off of Interstate 40 to take pictures. He had a green thumb.”

    Joyner’s family is expected to attend the service.

    “I think it’s something that means a lot to this family,” he said. “It speaks volumes about the compassion of the community.”

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