Local/State

Joe William Becton, longtime Durham civil rights activist, passes away

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Joe William Becton was a pioneer of sorts, paving the way for diversity in local television. It's a mission that led him to chair ABC11's longstanding minority advisory committee.

"Mr. Becton was a wonderful person. He always thought of others," said relative Frankie Perry.

Becton, who passed away Wednesday at age 81, was among the greatest champions of the Bull City.

"He was a staunch fighter. He never gave up. He made a way," said Perry.

One of those ways was the road to integration.  Serving as the first director of the city's human relations commission, it was Becton's job to help blacks and whites make a smooth transition from segregation.

Books have been written about the history-making friendship between civil rights advocates Ann Atwater and C.P. Ellis, but it was Becton who paired up the outspoken single mother and the former Durham Klan leader.

"Of course, that was a very difficult time in Durham when all of this transpired, that bringing those two together showed you what the human relations piece is," said Perry.

The former Marine was known for making his point with a loud, boisterous voice. Unlike today, there was a time when minority broadcasters were rarely featured on the news. But Becton fought to change that.

"If you look at race relations in Durham, he really was one of those behind the scenes persons. He didn't want the recognition," Perry explained.

But, recognition would come from his alma mater North Carolina Central University and ABC11. A station-sponsored scholarship recently, renamed in his honor, took Becton by surprise.

"He was overwhelmed. He was taken aback and completely humbled," said Perry.

Humbled, but always ready for a challenge. That is Becton's legacy.

"Young people in Durham and surrounding area will have someone who fought for us. He never gave up fighting for us," said Perry.

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