William Pete Cunningham, a retired Democratic member of the North Carolina General Assembly, died Tuesday morning, his family has confirmed. He was 81 years old.

Elected to 11 terms, he represented the 107th House district, which included parts of Mecklenburg County, before he retired on December 31, 2007. At the time, he was the longest-serving member of Mecklenburg County’s delegation.

Mr. Cunningham worked with Robert F. Williams and the Monroe County chapter of the NAACP in the 1950s and ’60s. He served in the U.S. Navy for 16 years and was a former U.S. Army paratrooper.

A real estate investor, he once owned the historic Excelsior Club on Beatties Ford Road.

Cunningham was a friend and ally of former Speaker Jim Black of Matthews, who rewarded him by appointing him to all House committees, a position he could use to swing key votes.

He first ran for the House in 1986, about the same time he bought the Excelsior Club, Charlotte’s first black social club. It was a venerable gathering spot for African American professionals, church groups and others, as well as an obligatory campaign stop for many politicians including Bill Clinton and Al Gore.

Cunningham owned the club until 2006 when he sold it to attorney James Ferguson.

Cunningham’s widow, Carla, said funeral arrangements are incomplete.
The Charlotte Observer contributed to this report.

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