Born 1949 in Winterville, North Carolina to Joe and Ella Grimes, Willie Grimes grew up with his four siblings. His parents worked hard as farmers to provide a good life for their children.
Attending North Carolina A&T
Their efforts were rewarded with young Willie excelling in high school. He made the decision to attend North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University in Greensboro during this time.
Once at A&T, Willie Grimes continued to be a strong student and was extremely social with his fellow students. He kept a part-time job and was a part of the ROTC fraternity, the Pershing Rifles.
Willie’s grandfather passed in April 1969 and the family came together for his homegoing. Eventually, Willie was to return to his studies and told the family “I’ll see you later.” This was custom in the Grimes’ household since Joe said never to say “Goodbye.”
The Dudley High Student Council Election
Early the following month, there was political trouble at Dudley High School. An honor student named Claude Barnes was considered a problem student. Not due to any student delinquency but because he was politically active in Civil Rights. Young Barnes rocked the boat at Dudley and the teachers didn’t want any part of dealing with him.
The school made a concentrated effort to keep him off the ballot on May 1st. When it came time for the election, 600 students wrote in their vote for the senior, Claude Barnes. His nearest competitor only picked up 200 votes. School officials stated that Barnes was ineligible because his name wasn’t on the ballot. As a result, Barnes and a few of his friends walked out and picketed the results.
Over the next couple days, more students walked out on Dudley High to protest the election. On May 16th, school officials called for the police which in turn resulted in more protesters. What could’ve ended this was the school recognizing Barnes as the winner. The Black community asked that the school do so but were denied.
Things were about to get much worse for Greensboro as a result of this slight and Willie Grimes was about to find himself in the middle of it as it reached North Carolina A&T.