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Social Justice Advocate
… and Daring Pool-Jumper
“Straight-backed, straightforward, but never straitlaced,” one biographer wrote of Gertrude Weil (1879-1971). Weil devoted her life to translating ideas into action on the public stage. Born in Goldsboro, Weil in 1912 led a campaign to give women the right to serve on school boards in North Carolina. In 1914 she helped found the Equal Suffrage League of North Carolina, and she became founding president of the state’s League of Women Voters in 1920.
A self-declared socialist, Weil was politically out of step with conservative North Carolinians, but state leaders respected her. With UNC President Frank Graham, she defended workers’ right to form unions. After attending an Anti-Lynching Conference of Southern White Women in 1930, she was appointed by the governor to the North Carolina Commission on Interracial Cooperation. The civil rights movement arrived when Weil was in her eighties. She helped found the Goldsboro Bi-Racial Council, which met at her house. She painted a white face on the black jockey hitching post on her lawn. Invited to “bring your friends” to a political rally at a segregated hotel, she led a parade of African Americans into the lobby. When Goldsboro barred blacks from the municipal swimming pool, the Weils donated land and built a pool in a black neighborhood. At its dedication, the elderly Gertrude removed her overcoat, revealing an old-time swimsuit, and jumped in, urging others to follow.
“It is not enough to eliminate one case of poverty after another, but to eliminate poverty itself.” — GERTRUDE WEIL