Butterfield Honors Former Roper Mayor Wilkins

Oct 21, 2009
Press Release

Roper, N.C. – With the support of the entire North Carolina House delegation, Congressman G. K. Butterfield has introduced legislation naming Roper’s Post Office in honor of former mayor and State Board of Education member E.V. Wilkins.
“Even today, E.V. Wilkins’ former students continue to carry and pass on his philosophy on the importance of tolerance, civic responsibility and academic achievement,” Butterfield said. “This is a fitting honor to a great public servant who was deeply dedicated to his students and his community.”
After graduating from North Carolina Central University in the 1930s, Elmer Vanray (“E.V.”) Wilkins returned to Roper to teach math at J.J. Clemmons High School. Butterfield said he soon became principal and led the school, its students and community to aspire to greatness.
Butterfield said Wilkins started that effort with a school bus in 1946. While the white children had a bus, the black students did not. After soliciting small donations from whites and blacks, and even taking bushels of potatoes that could be sold as part of the growing fund, Wilkins spearheaded the successful effort to provide the needed bus.
In the mid-1950s, Wilkins took up the fight against white town leaders refusal to allow blacks to vote. Butterfield explained that Wilkins insisted that everyone must enjoy the same right to vote and led a lawsuit with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on behalf of the town’s black residents. They won a court order enforcing their right to vote, and Wilkins’ father was able to vote for the first time in his life in 1956.
“He committed his life to the powerful idea that all people deserve equal rights,” Butterfield said.
Wilkins was elected as Roper’s first black mayor in 1975 – a position held for 20 years until his retirement – and he was the first black to be elected to the Roper Town Council since Reconstruction in 1967.
Butterfield said the legislation, which was offered today, would name Roper’s Post Office at 101 West Highway 64 Bypass as the “E.V. Wilkins Post Office.” Currently, the Post Office does not have a name.
Butterfield said that he was a well-known Democratic voice in eastern North Carolina, and he served as a delegate to the Democratic National Democratic Convention in 1972, 1980 and 1984.
A lifelong resident of Roper, Wilkins was born on July 4, 1911 and died on June 2, 2002 at the age of 90. His daughters, Bunny Sanders and Joy Price, son-in-law, Ralph Price, and two grandchildren, survive him. Sanders currently serves as Roper’s mayor.
Wilkins served as a member of numerous boards, including the State Board of Education, State Economic Development Commission, North Carolina Secondary Road Council, North Carolina Railroad Board of Directors, North Carolina State Ports Authority, Advisory Board for the Rural Education Institution at East Carolina University and Elizabeth City State University Board of Trustees.

During his life, Wilkins received numerous honors and awards, including the North Carolina Distinguished Citizen Award, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award, the Service Award by the North Carolina Leadership Caucus, the North Carolina Distinguished Service Award, and the North Carolina Human Relations Commission's Libby D. Koontz Award in recognition of his dedication and leadership in the areas of education, civil rights, and human rights.
He was also was honored by Elizabeth City State University when the University's computer center was renamed the E.V. Wilkins Academic Computing Center in 1992; and, honored by the establishment of the E.V. Wilkins Endowed Chair in the Elizabeth City State University School of Education and Psychology in 1996.