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Marshall C. Kurfees Papers

Finding Aid & Inventory

Marshall Clement Kurfees was a Winston-Salem, North Carolina, businessman and served as the city's mayor from 1949-1961. This collection includes correspondence, typescripts, photographs, scrapbooks, and newspaper clippings. The bulk of the materials relate to Kurfees's tenure as mayor.

Biographical and Historical Note

Marshall Clement Kurfees was born on June 3, 1904, in Germanton (Stokes County), North Carolina, the second of five children of John Wesley Kurfees and Flora Petree Kurfees. He was apparently named after a paternal uncle, who was a well-known Methodist minister. Kurfees graduated from Germanton High School and received an Associate's Degree from Mount Pleasant Collegiate Institute.

Kurfees moved to Winston-Salem in 1921 and enlisted in the Army shortly thereafter. He spent two years working as chief clerk at Fort Eustis, Virginia; then served four years in the Adjutant General's office in Washington, D.C. After his discharge, Kurfees returned to Winston-Salem and became involved in numerous local business ventures, mostly in the transportation industry. He served as Executive Director of the North Carolina Taxicab Association and the North Carolina Bus Association, and he held various positions in the Hennis Freight Lines trucking company.

In 1934, Kurfees married Mabel Heathman Click, who was to prove an invaluable asset in his political career. In the same year, Kurfees launched his first political campaign with an unsuccessful bid for the state legistlature. He garnered just under 300 votes, according to results published in the  Winston-Salem Journal on June 5, 1934, but gained considerable notoriety for running an anti-Prohibition campaign. Kurfees fared only slightly better in his 1936 campaign for State Legislature. However, in 1938, Kurfees ran for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. House, fifth district; while he finished second, he carried Forsyth County by a considerable margin.

This inspired him to make his first run for mayor of Winston-Salem in 1939. Like most of the South, Winston-Salem was at the time a Democratic stronghold, and mayoral and other races were essentially decided in the Democratic primaries. Kurfees lost his first mayoral bid; he would later attribute this to his to unwillingness to kowtow to the Hanes, Wachovia, and Reynolds Tobacco Company executives who were Winston-Salem's de facto ruling class.

During World War II Marshall and Mabel Kurfees worked for the war effort in Washington, D.C. When they returned to Winston-Salem, Kurfees again became involved in politics. In 1949, Kurfees finally won the mayoral race, despite opposition from most of the same Reynolds executives. But Kurfees proved himself a highly competent administrator and soon developed a close and productive working relationship with men like Charles Babcock and John Whitaker. And Kurfees cemented this relationship during his first term as mayor, when he helped rid R.J. Reynolds Inc. of the CIO-backed Local 22 union.

One of Kurfees's first acts as mayor was to get the state legislature to allow a referendum on Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Commission liquor stores in Forsyth County. When the resolution passed, the new ABC stores were nicknamed "Kurfees Drugstores" . Another accomplishment during Kurfees's mayoral tenure was the building of major roads in Winston-Salem, including Silas Creek Parkway, I-52, and I-40 (although Kurfees always denied any responsibility for the design of the infamous Hawthorne Curve). Kurfees was a vocal supporter of the Powell Bill, which gave North Carolina municipal governments a portion of state road use taxes.

Urban renewal was another major issue for Mayor Kurfees. Post-war Winston-Salem had many citizens living in substandard, unhealthy housing situations. Kurfees's administration organized projects to create low-cost housing options and to encourage downtown business development. Kurfees was also instrumental in passing the 1959 bond referendum which funded the new Forsyth Memorial Hospital. He welcomed the relocation of Wake Forest College to Winston-Salem in 1952, and he supported the restoration of the original Moravian settlement in Salem with the creation of Old Salem, Inc.

Race relations and the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement were an underlying issue in Winston-Salem throughout the 1950s. Kurfees sought to include the African-American community in local government, appointing black members to city boards and committees and to jobs in the firefighter and police forces. However, Winston-Salem remained a segregated city, with separate hospitals, schools, and neighborhoods.

Kurfees was an active and gregarious public official, keeping up a constant schedule of appearances and speeches. His wife Mabel was his executive secretary and was involved in all aspects of political life, earning the nickname "Mrs. Mayor" . Kurfees was elected to an unprecedented six terms as mayor of Winston-Salem, finally retiring in 1961. After his retirement, Kurfees served for 15 years as head of the Committee for a Model Community. This organization, funded largely by Reynolds family money, launched several social welfare programs in the city, including Meals on Wheels and the Youth Work Corps. Kurfees also served on the board of the new School of Pastoral Care at North Carolina Baptist Hospital. He remained very active in the social and political life of Winston-Salem until his death in 1991.

Collection Overview

Collection includes correspondence, typescript and manuscript speeches, photographs, pamphlets, memorabilia, and newspaper clippings. The bulk of the materials relate to Kurfees's term as Mayor of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 1949-1961, and include information on all aspects of social, cultural, and political life in Winston-Salem. Kurfees's work with the Committee for a Model Community is also well documented.

Collection Inventory

  • Personal and Biographical Materials (1915-1990) Box 1 (Personal documents relating to Kurfees and his extended family. Includes photograph of Kurfees as a child with family.)
    • Biographical and family documents
    • Military service (1941-1945)
    • Legal and financial documents
    • Photographs
  • Correspondence (1948-1991) (These files include both personal and professional correspondence to and from Kurfees. The bulk of the correspondence dates from Kurfees's years as Mayor of Winston-Salem, 1949-1961. Correspondents include: Benjamin Cone (mayor of Greensboro, NC), Dale H. Gramley (President, Salem College), Rev. John A. Hunter, Bishop J. Kenneth Pfohl (Moravian Church), Tom Davis (President, Piedmont Airlines), F. L. Atkins (President, Winston-Salem Teacher's College), Victor Shaw (mayor of Charlotte, NC), Amos R. Kearns (mayor of High Point, NC), Charles Babcock (R. J. Reynolds, Inc.), John C. Whitaker (R. J. Reynolds, Inc.), Rabbi Erwin L. Herman, Senator Ralph Scott, Senator William Kerr Scott, Governor William B. Umstead, Harold Tribble (President, Wake Forest College), Bill France (Chairman, National Stock Car Racing Association), Congressman Thurmond Chatham, Richard Stockton (Wachovia Bank), R. J. Reynolds, Gordon Gray, Fleetus Lee Gobble, State Senator John D. Larkins, T. O. Moore (Hanes Knitting Co.), Archie K. Davis (Wachovia Bank), Lt. Governor Luther Hodges, Rev. F. R. Blakey, Senator Terry Sanford, Luther Sherard, Harold W. Thomerson (secretary to Senator Ralph Scott), author Elta Handte-Blanchard, President John F. Kennedy, and others.)
    •  (1948)
    •  (1949)
    •  (1950)
    •  (1951)
    • 1952
    •  (January 1953- June 1953)
    •  (July 1953- December 1953)
    •  (January 1954- June 1954)
    •  (July 1954- December 1954)
    •  (1955)
    •  (1956)
    •  (1957)
    •  (1958)
    •  (1959)
    •  (1960)
    •  (1961)
    •  (1962-1963)
    •  (1964-1965)
    •  (1966-1970)
    •  (1971-1975)
    •  (1976-1980)
    •  (1981-1985)
    •  (1986-1990)
    • Undated correspondence
  • Subject Files (1941-1991)
    • All-America City Award (1959-1960)
    • Campaign materials
      • Lieutenant Governor campaign (1952)
    • Hospitals
    • Old Salem
    • Wake Forest College
    • Junior Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Service Award
    • Tobacco Legislation
    • North Carolina Taxicab Association
    • Programs, brochures, and newsletters
      • Memorial services
    • Committee for a Model Community
      • Pastoral Care Program, North Carolina Baptist Hospital
      • Youth Work Program, Winston-Salem
    • Winston-Salem community and government
    • Miscellaneous and unidentified items
  • Mayoral and Other Official Memorandums, Documents, and Certificates (1948-1990)
    • Awards and certificates
    • Memos
    • Proclamations and resolutions
  • Speeches (1948-1990)
    • General speeches
    • Political and campaign speeches Folder
  • Conferences and Meetings (1951-1958)
    • Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, Elgin Air Force Base (1951)
    • United States Conference of Mayors, Washington, D.C. (1953)
    • International Municipal Congress, Montreal, Canada (1953)
    • United States Conference of Mayors, Washington, D.C. (1954)
    • Inter-American Congress of Municipalities, San Juan, Puerto Rico (1955)
    • North Carolina League of Municipalities Conference, Winston-Salem (1958)
    • United States Conference of Mayors, Miami Beach, Florida (1958)
  • Newspaper Clippings (1941-1991)
    • Biography and interviews
    • Committee for a Model Community, Youth Work Corps, etc.
    • Political campaigns
    • Winston-Salem and Forsyth County
  • Oversize and Memorabilia (1956-1985)
    • WSJS Radio audiotapes
      • Invocation - Bishop Phofl; Dr. Mark Depp; Mr. Marshall Kurfees
      • Address - Dr. George Staples
      • Dr. Richard Young; Closing - Rev. Jerry Draydon
      • Unlabeled tapes (2)
    • Oversize folder with brochures from the American Highway Program (1969)
    • Framed letters, awards, and clippings
    • Nameplates
    • Scrapbooks Box 5 Box 7 Box 6 Box 8

Summary Information

Z. Smith Reynolds Library Special Collections and Archives
Kurfees, Marshall C., d. 1991
Marshall C. Kurfees Papers
Date [inclusive]
13.5 linear feet  4 record cartons, 4 oversize boxes
Mixed materials [Box]
Mixed materials [Box]
Mixed materials [Box]

Administrative Information

Publication Information
Z. Smith Reynolds Library Special Collections and Archives 2009
Revision Description
 Revised by Stephanie Bennett 2018
Access Restrictions
Collection is open. 
Copyright Notice
The nature of the WFU Z. Smith Reynolds Library Special Collections and Archives means that copyright or other information about restrictions may be difficult or even impossible to determine despite reasonable efforts. The Archives and Special Collections of ZSR Library claims only physical ownership of most materials. The materials from our collections are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study, pursuant to the U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. 
Preferred Citation
Marshall C. Kurfees Papers (MS443), Z. Smith Reynolds Library Special Collections and Archives, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA. 

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