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Tribune Newsmaker of the Year
NC Rep. Michaux leaves politics after stellar career
 
Published Friday, December 28, 2018
by Maria Magher, Correspondent

He was the reason that Martin Luther King Jr. first visited Durham. He was the first black man to be a federal prosecutor in the south after Reconstruction. And he has been the longest serving legislator in the N.C. General Assembly.

Now he’s retiring. And many say his absence will make a profound difference.

For that reason, Rep. Mickey Michaux is The Triangle Tribune’s Newsmaker of the Year.

“I figured it’s just time,” Michaux said when he announced his retirement on the floor of the N.C. House of Representative. He made his announcement ahead of the opening for candidate filings.

Michaux, 87, (who could not be reached by press time) has made a significant impact on politics in North Carolina. The Democratic legislator has served as a Durham attorney, a federal prosecutor, a civil-rights activist, a Durham County commissioner, a U.S. attorney, and the longest member of the N.C. House. He made two unsuccessful bids for the U.S. Congress.

“He’s provided a great service to the community in many ways, not just in the General Assembly,” former Mayor Bill Bell, a colleague and friend of Michaux’s, told The Herald-Sun earlier this year.

In particular, Michaux is known for his work on furthering civil rights, as well as for education. He has helped N.C. Central University and other historically black colleges and universities get increased funding. (NCCU’s school of education is even named for Michaux.) He helped craft legislation in the House that merged the Durham city and county school systems in 1992.

Some of the efforts of which Michaux is most proud involve his fights for voting rights and equality.

In the 1980s, he helped to redraw election districts, which resulted in more black judges being elected. He has consistently voted to block efforts to minimize voting restrictions, including redistricting efforts and attempts to pass a voter ID requirement.

He points to his early roots as a driving force in his political career. “I came out of the movement,” he said during his retirement announcement on the House floor. “I was a rebel.”

Perhaps as a result of his unwavering fight for equality and education, Michaux has been elected 22 times to the N.C. House, resulting in a storied, 40-year career in the General Assembly. But even before then, he held local political office and was involved in the fight to make political change.

Yet, Michaux never thought he would be in politics. It was King who convinced him. King had come to Durham at Michaux’s invitation and was staying in his home, and urged the 26-year-old member of the Durham Business and Professional Chain to get into politics. But Michaux lost the races he eventually entered in the mid-1960s.

Michaux even told himself that he would never get into politics after King was assassinated.

But that eventually changed, and he had a long career that many are sad to see come to an end.

“Your work on behalf of the underserved and underrepresented has brought more opportunity where there was oppression and investment, where there was obstruction. Thank you for passing the mantle, and we will continue the fight,” Sen. Erica D. Smith, chair, North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus, told Michaux and other members at a July reception.  

Rep. David Lewis, a Republican, called Michaux “one of the greatest men I know” in a tweet after his retirement was announced. “I value his wisdom and passion,” he said. “My life and this state are better for his service.”

 

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