E.V. Wilkins Honor Moves Forward

Jan 13, 2010
Press Release

Roper, N.C. – The U.S. House today approved legislation naming Roper's Post Office in honor of former mayor and State Board of Education member E.V. Wilkins.

“E.V. Wilkins provided an indelible legacy in his community,” Congressman G. K. Butterfield said. “This fitting honor recognizes his deep dedication to the community and his tireless work to increase tolerance, civic responsibility and academic achievement. He was an important and well-known political voice for eastern North Carolina.”

The House approved Butterfield’s bill after a 356 to 1 roll call vote. The legislation 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. The legislation is co-sponsored by North Carolina’s entire House delegation, and now moves on to the Senate where it is expected to win approval.

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 by seeking 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 accepting 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 county 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 county’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 previously the first black to be elected to the Roper Town Council since Reconstruction in 1967.

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 and the North Carolina State Ports Authority. He also served as a member of the Board of Trustees of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, the Advisory Board for the Rural Education Institution at East Carolina University, and of the 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.