Volume 16, Number 7
Golden Asro Frinks was born in Wampee, South Carolina, but always claimed North Carolina as his home, living mostly in his wife’s (Ruth) hometown of Edenton. His mother, Kizzie, named him Golden because of a “golden text” at a church service earlier on the day he was born, April 26, 1920.
Although mostly unknown today, Frinks spent 30 years of his life agitating and protesting against the Jim Crow laws of the era. He worked to desegregate restaurants, motels and theaters in Edenton and fought the closing of historically black schools in eastern North Carolina. By his own count, he was arrested 89 times for his activities.
Because of his work organizing protests in Williamston and Edenton, the man who left school after the tenth grade was invited to be a field organizer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Traveling across the south wherever there was a need, Frinks became known as a brilliant strategist and talented organizer. A lot of the planning for Selma was done in Frinks’s home, he helped organize the March on Washington, and he was the organizer who reached across the color line, walking up and down the line of highway patrol officers and state agents, thanking them and shaking hands. In his career, he led protests on behalf of a white man and the Lumbee Indians.
Frinks used what was at hand, and in Edenton and other towns he found young people, teenagers and younger, were the most effective protestors. He also found that his ideas resonated with both older blacks and the young adults who were beginning to absorb and act on the Black Power call.
He had his little ways. He often dressed in a gold-colored jumpsuit or dashiki with gold chains with a cross. If there was no spirit in the meeting when it was needed, Frinks was not above jumping up on a table and “acting a little crazy.” Once he let loose a coop full of chickens around an Alabama courthouse to delay a hearing. It was a tactic he may have used more than once. A North Carolina State Trooper said he was a master of highway protests.
In 1993 when four black teenagers were the only ones arrested after a brawl at a bowling alley in Hampton, Virginia, Frinks, then 73 and described as national crisis coordinator for the NAACP, was invited to Hampton by black adults who thought the charges were excessive.
One of the teens charged with a felony was a local football and basketball player named Allen Iverson, who maintained his innocence, saying he left as the fighting began. He said he was charged because he was a star. He had already been sentenced to five years in prison.
Frinks led marches and put the racial incident and its aftermath on the front pages of local and national newspapers. As a result, 60 Minutes filmed a episode and then-Governor Douglas Wilder commuted Iverson’s sentence, which was overturned in 1995. Iverson was free to accept an offer to attend Georgetown University and play on their basketball team, turn professional two years later and go on to be named one of the best shooting guards in the NBA along with a host of other honors.
Frinks never came to Wake Forest but he was dispatched to Oxford in 1970 after a racially motivated murder and subsequent rioting .
Henry Marrow, 23, had been shot several times, the last as he lay on the ground, because he said something to a young white woman and her relatives interpreted that as a sexual remark. (For a full account of the killing, the racial situation in Oxford at the time and the aftermath, you will find it in “Blood Done Sign My Name” by Timothy Tyson who was a child in Oxford at the time. It is available in Wake County libraries and on Amazon.)
Frinks went to Oxford both because Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said he should go and because he had been invited by the Chavis women and their friends. He hurried but he and several young people with him were late getting to New Light Baptist Church where there was a cordon of highway patrol cars and officers. Denied entrance to the church, Frinks went over to one officer and said the sermon he could hear from the church was a sorry one. The officer said that was true but it would pick up soon because they were expecting Golden Frinks “to come in here and stir this thing up.” Admitted through the line, he did indeed stir things up.
At the end of the service, he enlisted Ben Chavis and the Reverend Leon White with others to help assemble a march to the cemetery, and after the service there was over organized a second march to the center of Oxford where the Confederate monument stood in 1970. From that podium Frinks and Chavis gave impetus to what was first the Sunday afternoon march and then march from Oxford to the state capitol in Raleigh.
The march was widely covered and also spurred a local resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, which vowed to stop it. And when the marchers returned to Oxford, the fire-bombings began, hitting at the white economy by targeting the town’s many tobacco warehouses.
Frinks died July 19, 2004, in a retirement home in Edenton. In his last years he received many honors and was able to enjoy his daughter, Goldie, and grandchildren.
There is much more to tell about Frinks, and you can start with Wikipedia, then move on to the book named above and two others which are available on Amazon and affordable if you will accept used copies: “Golden Asro Frinks: Telling the Unsung Song” by Dr. Goldie Frinks Wells and Crystal Sanders and “Along Freedom road: Hyde County, North Carolina, and the Fate of Black Schools in the South” by David S. Cecelski. Another book by Cecelski that documents the attempts at freedom by North Carolina watermen and paints vivid pictures of the teeming life in the ocean and in the coastal rivers, bays and sounds is “The Waterman’s Song.”