Ballance, Frank W. 1942–
Frank W. Ballance 1942–
U.S. congressional representative
Elected to the United States House of Representatives in November of 2002, attorney and political veteran Frank W. Ballance embodied the pioneering courage shown by the first generation of African-American political activists in the South. He bore the scars of physical attacks he suffered at the hands of white law-enforcement officers during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Yet Ballance, whose long political career spanned an era of far-reaching changes in southern culture, also helped shape the next stage of southern black political life: an expert political organizer who helped pave the way for the election of Eva Clayton, North Carolina’s first black congressional representative since the Reconstruction era, he succeeded Clayton in Congress. Thanks in part to Balance’s efforts, African Americans became well entrenched in North Carolina’s political life.
Frank W. Ballance Jr. was born on a farm in eastern North Carolina’s Bertie County, in the small tobacco-farming community of Cedar Landing, on February 15, 1942. Ballance’s father was a sharecropper, and Ballance grew up under the twin yokes of poverty and segregation. His childhood memories include buying a hot dog at a segregated lunch counter at a Bertie County bus station and of being forced to wait to eat until white farmworkers had finished their lunches. Ideas of civil rights that were stirring in urban black communities were slow to come to rural North Carolina, but as a teenager Ballance began to question the status quo. “When you got to the age of 14 or 15 you’d ask: ‘Why are we treated this way?’” he told the Raleigh News & Observer.
Finishing high school in Bertie County, Ballance enrolled at North Carolina Central University in Durham just as black student activism was gaining traction. Ballance and his fellow students marched downtown and staged protests against segregated facilities at a Woolworth’s department store. After graduating from North Carolina Central in 1963, Ballance entered the university’s law school and received his law degree two years later. In 1966 a newly minted 24-year-old lawyer with an interest in civil rights, he moved to Warrenton, North Carolina, to take a position with the law firm of T.T. Clayton, one of rural eastern North Carolina’s first African-American lawyers and the husband of Eva Clayton.
Ballance threw himself into the civil rights struggle, becoming youth director for the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Both Ballance and Eva Clayton were involved in protests in Warrenton, and during one school-integration march Ballance was clubbed by a Warren County deputy sheriff, leaving a scar he would keep for the rest of his life. Ballance, his shirt splashed with blood, appeared at a church meeting that evening to rally fellow marchers. “Then we’d go out the next day and do it again,” he told the News & Observer. Ballance also served the cause of law enforcement, however, joining the National Guard in 1968 and serving in its reserves until 1971.
As the era of marches was followed by a long effort to improve black political representation in the South,
At a Glance …
Born on February 15, 1942, in Cedar Landing, Bertie County, NC; son of frank Winston Ballance and Alice Eason Ballance; married Bernadine Small wood; children: Garey, Angela, Valerie, Education: North Carolina Central University, Durham, NC, BA, 1963; North Carolina Central University Law School, JD, 1965. Politics: Democrat Religion: Baptist.
Career: T.T. Clayton, lawyer, 1966–1970s, partner, 1970s; opened own law firm, Warrenton, NC, 1970s; several unsuccessful runs for office, once as a Republican, late 1960s and 1970s; North Carolina State Government, representative, 1982–88, senator, 1988–97, deputy president pro tempore of senate, 1997–2002; elected to U.S. House of Representatives from North Carolina 1st District, 2002–.
Selected memberships: Past president, NAACP, Warren County Branch; chairman of deacon board, Greenwood Baptist Church, Warrenton.
Addresses: Office —413 Cannon House Office Bldg., Washington, DC 20515.
Ballance ran for office several times. He lost a race for district judge in 1968 and for the Warren County Commission in 1970, but each race helped hike black voter registration percentages that were long depressed by segregationist-inspired voting restrictions. Balance’s county commission run came under the Republican Party banner as he and other North Carolina black political figures temporarily switched allegiances away from the Democrats in the 1970s. In the meantime, Ballance rose to the rank of full partner in T.T. Clayton’s law firm and then opened his own law office. Among his professional accomplishments was his selection as Lawyer of the Year by the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers.
Over the course of the 1970s, the efforts of Ballance and others to build a strong African-American political apparatus in eastern North Carolina began to bear fruit as black voter registration increased. By 1980 over 50 percent of Warren County’s registered voters were African Americans, and in the next election cycle, in 1982, blacks made key advances. Ballance (having returned to the Democratic fold) was elected to the North Carolina House, serving two terms, and he moved on to the state senate in 1988. He emerged as a party leader, winning election as deputy president pro tempore of the senate in 1997, and he was known for his staunch opposition to the death penalty. Ballance also resisted the privatization of North Carolina’s prison system, fearing that for-profit operations might shortchange items like rehabilitation programs that wouldn’t contribute directly to a company’s bottom line.
The redistricting carried out by the North Carolina legislature after the 1990 census carved out a new majority-black U.S. congressional district of which Warrenton was part, and Ballance considered running for Congress himself. He deferred in favor of Eva Clayton, however, serving as campaign manager in her successful and historic bid for office in 1992. Ballance remained in the state senate, serving until 2002. Among the achievements of his later years was a bill mandating record-keeping of highway patrol traffic stops so that racial-profiling trends could be identified and dealt with.
Ballance had become a pillar of the Warrenton community by the time Eva Clayton announced her decision to retire from Congress in 2002. Living with his wife, Bernadine, on a 17-acre estate, he had become one of North Carolina’s more powerful political figures, serving as chairman of the First Congressional District Democratic Party and as first vice chair of the state party. All three of the Ballances’ children (one son and two daughters) enjoyed flourishing careers around North Carolina, and Ballance, despite his obvious position as heir apparent, thought long and hard about partially uprooting himself for a new career in Washington.
Clayton’s support and a desire to carry on her legacy tipped the scales, however. “It makes it easier to know that there is someone who honors and values people as you do and who will fight for the district,” Clayton told Jet after Ballance cruised to victory in the Democratic primary and the 2002 general election, in which he defeated Republican Greg Dority. That election marked the first time in North Carolina history that a congressional seat had passed from one African American to another. As Clayton had been ten years earlier, Ballance was elected president of the group of incoming Democrats in Congress in 2003.
In Congress, Ballance was appointed to the Agriculture and Small Business committees—both effective forums for supporting the concerns of his primarily rural and small-town constituents. With his higher profile came new scrutiny; Ballance’s political opponents noted that a North Carolina nonprofit drug treatment foundation he chaired had failed to file a required federal tax form over the entire 18 years of its existence. Whatever new challenges he would face in the coming years, Balance’s election to federal office placed the capstone on an impressive career that seemed to represent the essence of the transition from the Old South to the New.
Associated Press, State and Regional News, April 18, 2003.
Business North Carolina, October 2000, p. 14.
Charlotte Observer, June 12, 2003, p. B2.
Jet, January 27, 2003, p. 8.
New York Times, March 9, 2003, section 6, p. 25.
News & Observer (Raleigh, NC), January 6, 2003, p. A1.
Winston-Salem Journal, June 20, 2000, p. Al; June 8, 2001, p. A12.
“Frank W. Ballance, Jr.,” Congressman Frank W Ballance Official Website, http://ballance.house.gov/bio.htm (July 10, 2003).
—James M. Manheim
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