John I. Wilson
Teacher, Lobbyist, Executive Director
John Ira Wilson grew up in a segregated North Carolina. It wasn’t until he attended Raleigh’s Broughton High School that he saw an African-American in his class.
Wilson says he was never exposed to racism at home in Burlington. His mother, who worked in steakhouses and barbeque restaurants during his childhood, taught him to be respectful of everyone.
“In a restaurant, there’s such a mix of folks,” he recalls. “You had the opportunity to work all day with people and understand there was really no difference.”
The turning point in Wilson’s life came on Sunday, July 31, 1966, when he attended a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at North Carolina State University. Wilson was shocked by the hatred he saw at a protest organized by the Ku Klux Klan, but he was also heartened by people from different walks of life who attended Dr. King’s speech in support of a common goal.
“I picked the side that’s for folks getting along and working together,” recalls Wilson, who went on to become one of the state’s leaders in education and advocacy. “Teaching is the epitome of social justice.”
A teacher of special-needs children for 23 years, Wilson retired from teaching in 1993 to become the chief lobbyist for the North Carolina Association of Educators. He later served as the NCAE’s executive director and as the National Education Association’s executive director.
Wilson currently serves on the Board of Directors for the North Carolina Foundation for Public School Children, which provides financial assistance to help meet basic needs for under-privileged children.
He also left a mark on North Carolina politics by helping manage the campaign for Dan Blue, the first African-American Speaker of the NC House of Representatives.
Biography written by Amanda K. Lee