Butterfield’s Bill to Designate U.S. Courthouse in Durham as “John Hervey Wheeler United States Courthouse” Passes the Senate

Dec 21, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Last night, the U.S. Senate passed legislation introduced by Congressman G. K. Butterfield (NC-01) to designate the United States Courthouse located at 323 East Chapel Hill Street in Durham, North Carolina, as the “John Hervey Wheeler United States Courthouse,” in honor of prominent lawyer, civil rights leader, and bank president, John Hervey Wheeler.

“John Hervey Wheeler was a statesman who led with conviction,” said Butterfield.  “There is no more fitting way to honor the legacy and contributions of John Hervey Wheeler than to name the United States Courthouse in Durham, North Carolina in his honor.  It is my hope that the president will sign this bill into law expeditiously so that John Hervey Wheeler’s contributions to the community he loved so much will live on for generations to come.”

On July 27, 2017, Butterfield introduced H.R. 3460, a bill to rename the U.S. Courthouse in Durham after John Hervey Wheeler.  H.R. 3460 was passed by voice vote in the House of Representatives on July 16, 2018.

H.R. 3460 now heads to the president’s desk to be signed into law.

Click here to watch Congressman Butterfield’s Floor speech in support of H.R. 3460.


Background on John Hervey Wheeler:

John Hervey Wheeler was born in 1908 in the town of Kittrell in Vance County to Mr. John Leonidas Wheeler and the former Margaret Hervey.  The family moved to Durham when his father took a job as an insurance agent with the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company (NC Mutual).  His father’s job at NC Mutual eventually took the family to Atlanta, Georgia when John Leonidas was promoted to supervisor for the company’s Georgia operations.

John Hervey Wheeler was educated in Atlanta and attended high school at Morehouse Academy, followed by Morehouse College where he graduated summa cum laude.  After graduating from Morehouse College, John Hervey Wheeler returned to Durham and began a decades-long career at Mechanics & Farmers (M&F) Bank, starting first as a bank teller and eventually rising to serve as bank president.   

After returning to Durham, he enrolled in law school at the North Carolina College for Negroes – now North Carolina Central University – where, in 1947, he was among the institution’s first law school graduates. 

In 1935, John Hervey Wheeler became a founding member of the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs (DCNA), a local civil rights organization that established a means for African Americans to become involved in large-scale community activism in the fight for civil rights and economic justice.  The organization continues today as the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.  It was from DCNA that John Hervey Wheeler rose as a political leader.

As president of M&F Bank, John Hervey Wheeler was instrumental in creating affordable lending options for African Americans that were previously unavailable to them.  He is credited with breaking down barriers in lending so enterprising African Americans could realize their entrepreneurial goals.  As an attorney, John Hervey Wheeler was a stalwart advocate for equality and fairness.  He helped to lead several successful lawsuits that challenged educational segregation including the U.S. Supreme Court case Frasier v. Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina.  

Due to his long and established work in support of civil rights, then-President John F. Kennedy appointed John Hervey Wheeler to the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity- now the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission- in 1961.  In 1963, John Hervey Wheeler became an incorporator of the North Carolina Fund, an ambitious antipoverty agency established by then-Governor Terry Sanford to help eradicate issues of poverty.  The Fund became a model for Lyndon B. Johnson's national War on Poverty initiative.

John Hervey Wheeler passed away on July 6, 1978 at the age of 70.

John Hervey Wheeler was the recipient of many awards and commendations over his long and important career, including the Frank Porter Graham Civil Liberties Award for his defense of freedom for all North Carolinians.