Willis M. Carter was an educator and editor who, by the end of the nineteenth century, had become one of Virginia’s best-known African Americans.
Born into slavery in Albemarle County. Carter worked as a laborer at a sawmill, porcelain company, and on a railroad after the war. For a time he attended a school in Craigsville, in Augusta County, on Sundays. In the summer of 1873 and during several later summers he worked as a waiter at resorts in Hampshire County, West Virginia, and once in Rhode Island. In the autumn of 1874 Carter moved to Washington, D.C., to pursue his education. He waited tables at a hotel and joined the Young Men’s Dramatic Association, where he acted in several plays and of which he was vice president and general manager. On September 25, 1878, he entered Wayland Seminary, where he won the prize as best speaker of his class every year and graduated from the normal department in 1881.
He served as principal of the West End School there for fifteen years and as president of the August County Teachers’ Association. Following the Danville Riot in November 1883 he led a group of African Americans that considered leaving Virginia. He also served as editor and president of the black newspaper the Southern Tribune, published in Staunton. (He changed the paper’s name to the Staunton Tribune in 1893.) In 1901 he participated in protests against the new constitutional convention called to disfranchise African Americans. He died in Staunton in 1902.