The digital collection, Sam Reed and the Trumpet of Conscience, documents and contextualizes the life and work of activist and organizer, Sam Reed, and the organization and publication, the Trumpet of Conscience (TOC) he founded in Durham, N.C. The TOC newsletter and organization were established in 1987 and disbanded in 2000 following Reed's death at the age of 93. The group's mission was "To come together, to listen to one another, to strive toward reducing and eliminating the root causes of crime and divisiveness in our midst." Organization was open to all and attracted active involvement from numerous Duke University and North Carolina Central University faculty, as well as local Durham residents. According to William Willimon, former Dean of Duke Chapel, Duke and Durham's Martin Luther King Day celebrations were established, in large part, because of Reed's efforts. Collected by Lois Deloatch, G'08, the Sam Reed and the Trumpet of Conscience digital collection includes newsletters, planning documents, photographs, awards, speeches, transcripts of interviews, and a videotape of Reed.
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[Identification of item], Sam Reed and the Trumpet of Conscience, John Hope Franklin Research Center, Duke University.
The Trumpet of Conscience, a Durham-based organization and the publication the group produced, were founded by long-time civil rights and labor activist Sam Reed. "Keeping the Dream Alive," the subtitle of the publication, reflected the group's core mission, which was to advance the goals and work of Martin Luther King, Jr., Reed's hero. The newsletter listed its publisher as "Concerned Citizens United," and "Citizens United," however, the publication and the organization were commonly referred to as "The Trumpet." Both were established in 1987 and disbanded in 2000 following the death of 93 year-old Reed in August of 1999.
Reed idolized Martin Luther King, Jr. and was dedicated to King's pursuit of social and economic justice and racial understanding. The name, The Trumpet of Conscience, was taken from the title of King's 1967 Steeler Lecture and the 1968 book containing a collection of speeches he delivered in November and December 1967, which was published after his assassination in 1968. Published primarily on a quarterly basis, The Trumpet included original and reprinted articles on a broad range of topics and issues related to the struggle for civil rights, affirmative action, and labor organization. In particular, The Trumpet illuminated the close connections between the struggle against racism and discrimination and the struggle for labor rights and the economic well-being of working people. The newsletter included editorials, poetry, and other types of communiqués on an irregular basis. Occasionally, The Trumpet's mission was printed in the body of the newsletter. As stated on page 2 of the Fall 1995 issue, The Trumpet's mission was: "To come together, to listen to one another. To strive toward reducing and eliminating the root causes of crime and divisiveness in our midst. To provide greater opportunities for work and cultural advancement for all, especially for our young people. To make every effort to overcome prejudices and to create a climate of love and sharing."
Circulation varied, and from 1996-1998, for example, The Trumpet produced 1,000-2,000 copies per print run. Volunteers assisted Reed in soliciting story ideas, writing, and editing as well as labeling and distributing the newsletter. The publication was supported by cash and in-kind contributions from Reed, volunteers, other individuals, businesses, and organizations that were solicited primarily by Reed. Over the years, The Trumpet's mailing list grew to include hundreds of individuals, groups, nonprofits, and businesses throughout the greater Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill) area.
From the time he arrived in Durham in 1973, Reed worked vigorously to connect with and engage a broad range of individuals and groups including public officials at the city, county, and state levels. He encouraged and supported the successful candidacy of County Commissioner Joe Bowser (see Bowser interview) and held strong associations with North Carolina State Representative Paul Leubke and the late North Carolina State Senator Jeanne Lucas. He counted many in Durham's City Hall among his friends including Steve Chalmers of the Durham Police Department.
Sam made regular visits to Durham Technical Community College, Duke University, North Carolina Central University, UNC-Chapel Hill, Ninth Street businesses, and various other locations to hand-deliver the newsletter and to meet, enlighten, and recruit new people. He found colleges and universities to be particularly fertile settings for cultivating new friends and supporters for The Trumpet. As important, being among the students on these campuses provided a great source of inspiration for Sam since he was especially committed to helping young people develop and realize their leadership potential. Reed's unannounced visits to the offices of administrators and faculty proved productive, yielding many new friends for The Trumpet and the NAACP. As well, his association with institutions of higher education and the scholars and intellectuals associated with them resulted in numerous newsletter articles and keynote speakers for events. C. Elwood Boulware and Walter Brown of North Carolina Central University; William Chafe, Will Willimon, Peter Wood, John Hope Franklin, and Karla Holloway of Duke University; and Chancellor Michael Hooker of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were among the scholars whose writings appeared in The Trumpet's pages. As well, Sam's presence and connections on these campuses resulted in opportunities to highlight and advance his cause. One such opportunity was Reed's appearance as featured speaker for Durham Technical Community College's Martin Luther King Day Celebration in January 1997.
Seeking to communicate his mission visually, Reed requested that his friend and supporter, Elizabeth Frasier, design a logo for The Trumpet similar to one she had created for a book she had written. The simple flower contained the City of Durham as the stem with numerous petals representing health, community pride, youth, elderly, safety, governance, ecology, economics, and education. The caption read, "When one petal falls, the flower is incomplete. The Trumpet is: the glue, the core, the heart, the conscience." According to Frasier, Sam wanted the design to emphasize the need for connectedness and for the community to work together.
Reed played a pivotal role in establishing Durham and Duke University's Martin Luther King Day celebrations, which today are among the region's most recognized events. Over the years, the two annual celebrations of Martin Luther King Day and Labor Day, as well as voter registration and voter participation drives, became the group's signature events. Additionally, The Trumpet sponsored periodic public meetings and gatherings to highlight and discuss important issues and to encourage the development of progressive leadership with a commitment to working people. Collaborating with other organizations such as the Independent Weekly newspaper, The Trumpet hosted forums on topics such as race relations and immigration. Activities and events were generally held at St. Joseph's Historic Foundation's Hayti Heritage Center, North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Building, the Durham Public Library, or other public locations. Reed was particularly interested in partnering with and highlighting Durham's African American institutions.
Although Sam Reed and The Trumpet were synonymous, he generously shared leadership of the organization with anyone willing to work and assume a significant role. Evidence of this was the ever-changing editorial board of the newsletter which included seasoned journalists such as Taylor Sisk as well as volunteers with little or no journalism experience. The Trumpet attracted people from all walks of life including individuals with extensive backgrounds in community organizing and supporters with little or no previous experience with grassroots work. As John Hope Franklin explained (see Franklin interview), the loose structure of the organization was what attracted people like him to it, although unfortunately, it was The Trumpet's loose structure that led to its demise after Reed's death.
Compiled by Lois Deloatch, July 17, 2007
- Deloatch, Lois, personal conversations with Sam Reed, 1996-1999.
- Interviews with individuals associated with the Trumpet of Conscience, May-August 2007.
- The Prism, http://www.ibiblio.org/prism/Feb97/grassroots.html#seventeen, accessed June 10, 2007.