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Joseph Samuel Nathaniel Tross papers

Identifier: MS0373

Scope and Contents

The Tross papers are a small assortment of letters, radio addresses, newspaper clippings, photographs, and sound recordings from WBT Radio. This collection contains 4 radio commentaries and no sermons. Additional biographical information exists in newspaper articles about him, as well as obituaries and memorials. The collection also contains twenty photographs that document Dr. Tross's life and career. Though the collection is small, it does provide a significant glimpse into the life and philosophy of this civil rights leader.


  • Creation: 1927 - 1971


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Some material may be copyrighted or restricted. It is the patron's obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections.

Biographical Note

Joseph Samuel Nathaniel Tross was born in Berbice, British Guyana, in South America on April 2, 1889, to Phillis Jane Tross (the name of his father is no longer known). Tross was a well-educated minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, having earned a BD, MA, STM, PhD, and a DD. As a citizen in the British Empire, he first attended Oxford University and later migrated to Canada. In November of 1914, soon after the European powers had mobilized for war, he moved again to Boston, Massachusetts and attended Harvard University. From there, he moved to Lincoln University in Oxford, Pennsylvania, then on to Howard University in Washington, DC, and from there, to the University of Pittsburgh, where he earned a PhD in religion. In 1918, he met and married Geneva Hopkins of West Grove, Pennsylvania. Soon after their marriage, the Trosses moved to Portland, Maine where Nathaniel assumed the pulpit of his first church. In 1919, Tross moved again to Salisbury, North Carolina, where he taught philosophy and religion at Livingstone College. Later, Tross began preaching again in Goldsboro, and later in Pittsburgh. After his arrival in North Carolina, he attended Lincoln University, Oscaloosa College and Western Theological Seminary. In 1934, he wrote a book entitled This Thing Called Religion, a copy of which is in the rare book collection at the UNC Charlotte Library. Tross was also the President of the Community Crusaders in 1940. Serving in that role, he appeared before the Charlotte City Council on several occasions, lobbying for the installation of street lights in black neighborhoods. Eventually, the City did install lights, an influence that helped to bring down the level of crime in those neighborhoods. (Griffin, p 40) During World War II, Tross was the chairman of the Charlotte Rationing Board, and afterwards he was one of the people who lobbied for the employment of African-Americans as police and truant officers. Beginning in 1945, he produced weekly radio broadcasts on WBT that lasted for thirty-seven years. It was in one of his early radio broadcasts that he introduced the concept of SARGU, or 'Southern Association for Racial Goodwill and Understanding.' Tross would later remark, "In all my years of broadcasting I've continually dwelt upon this theme, 'interracial goodwill.'" In addition to his ministerial work, Tross also served as the editor of the Charlotte Post beginning in 1949, which he subtitled "an interracial goodwill project." Tross also served as the editor of Sunday school literature for the AME Zion Church. In 1950, Tross officially became a US citizen, and attempted to enter politics by running for election to the Charlotte City School Board in 1964, '66 and '67. While attending a meeting of the National Negro Newspaper Association, he met President Lyndon B. Johnson at the White House on August 6, 1965. While there, African-American civil rights protesters staged a sit-in at the White House. The President consulted with Tross and other leaders of the NNNA on how best to deal with the protestors. Tross urged the President not to speak with them, because by doing so he would tarnish the esteem and dignity of the Presidency. This widely publicized advice was criticized by many in the civil rights movement, and was one of the gestures that separated Tross from Dr. Martin Luther King, whose non-violent sit-ins were the hallmark of his approach to civil rights reform. According to the Charlotte Post's tribute to Dr. Tross shortly after his death, "He [Tross] deplored the violent demonstrations by both black and white people that have taken place over the past few years. He said Dr. Martin Luther King's anti-violence convictions were the same as his, but at the same time Dr. Tross had no taste for the personal publicity that followed Dr. King throughout his short career." During his ministerial tenure, Tross was the pastor of the Weeping Willow AME Church (where he oversaw the construction of a new church building), the Monroe AME Zion Church, O'Connor Grove AME Church and China Grove AME Church. According to Davison Douglas and Marianne Bumgarner-Davis, Tross was the most prominent civil rights leader in Charlotte in the eyes of the white community. They also claim that Tross opposed the confrontational stance that Dr. King took in his approach to societal reform, thinking it would trigger a backlash. According to Reginald Hawkins, Tross would not use the same approach for fear of jeopardizing the advances he had with the white community. (Griffin, pp 45, 46) Tross died of a stroke in Charlotte, North Carolina on Tuesday, March 30, 1971 at the age of 82. Those who knew him described him as being intelligent, very well educated, religious, conscientious, patriotic, dutiful, articulate and opinionated. In an article that appeared in the Charlotte Post, Florence Tross Fonvielle remarked: "My father was a very unique man. His people either loved him or hated him. It is difficult to find many in between. His strong convictions were his own, just as the friends and enemies he made were his own… [He] never did anything by half measure - and he never complained about what he did or did not have… In many ways he was a secretive man. By that I mean he would undertake projects on his own. No discussion with those close to him. That goes back to being mostly his own man. A man of conviction and action." He and Geneva had one child, a daughter named Florence Tross Fonvielle. Florence has one child, named Lillian Fonvielle, who donated the Tross collection to the UNC-Charlotte Special Collections in 2007. [Sources: Bumgarner-Davis, Marianne, "Rending the Veil," Dissertation ; Charlotte Post, April 1971 ; Griffin, Willie J., "Indigenous Civil Rights Movement," Thesis ; J.S.N. Tross Collection, University of North Carolina at Charlotte Library.]


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Language of Materials



Papers, photographs, newspaper clippings, radio broadcast transcripts and sound recordings of Dr. Joseph Samuel Nathaniel Tross, a minister in the AME Zion Church, editor of the Charlotte Post, and civil rights leader in Charlotte, NC from the 1930s until his death in 1971.


The collection is arranged into the following three series: Papers, Photographs and Sound Recordings.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Acquired from Ms. Lillian Fonvielle, in February 2007.

Processing Information

Processed by Robert A. McInnes, February 2007.

Joseph Samuel Nathaniel Tross papers
Processed by: Robert A. McInnes; machine-readable finding aid created by: Robert A. McInnes
Feb. 2007
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Repository Details

Part of the Manuscript Collections, J. Murrey Atkins Library Special Collections and University Archives, UNC Charlotte Repository

Atkins Library, UNC Charlotte
9201 University City Blvd
Charlotte NC 28223 United States

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