Annotated Timeline of the Civil Rights Movement in North Carolina

By Akshay Gupta

1921 North Carolina establishes the Division of Negro Education.

1928 Annie Wealthy Holland forms the N.C. Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers, the first such organization for African Americans in the state.

1932 Black ministers in Raleigh protest the dedication of the War Memorial Auditorium because they are forced to sit in the balcony.

1938 African American students in Greensboro initiate a theater boycott to protest the absence of racially balanced movies.

1939 In response to the Gaines decision, North Carolina begins offering graduate courses in liberal arts and associated professions at the N. C. College for Negroes in Durham. The Agricultural and Mechanical College in Greensboro also begins to offer classes in agriculture and technology to African Americans.

1940 North Carolina abolishes the poll tax, used to limit minority voting.

1942 The Southern Conference on Race Relations brings together 59 black leaders from 10 southern states at the N. C. College for Negroes. A committee headed by Charles S. Johnson issues the Durham Manifesto, which demands voting rights and equal educational and job opportunities for African Americans.

1943 Black tobacco workers go on strike at R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in Winston-Salem.

1943 The N. C. Conference of NAACP Branches forms in Charlotte.

1947 CORE tests a Supreme Court decision against segregation in interstate bus travel by sending eight African American men on Greyhound and Trailways bus rides. Riders are arrested in Asheville, Durham, and Chapel Hill. This event is known as the “Journey of Reconciliation,” and it becomes the model for the 1961 Freedom Rides. (“History and Perspectives”).

 More on the Journey of Reconciliation:

On April 13, 1947, police arrested four men for breaking Jim Crow laws requiring the segregation of passengers on a bus in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The men were traveling with a group representing the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), a pacifist human rights organization, and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a civil rights organization dedicated to gaining black rights through nonviolent protest action. The group was engaged in what they called a “Journey of Reconciliation” to test the application of the Supreme Court’s 1946 decision in Morgan v. Virginia outlawing Jim Crow seating for interstate passengers. The Journey began in Washington, D.C., and moved through Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and back again through Virginia before returning to Washington. There were sixteen male participants on this Journey: eight black, eight white. The passengers on board dispersed throughout the bus in opposition of Jim Crow laws. The laws required that black and white passengers sit separate from one another, with blacks in back and whites in front. They also required black passengers to give up their seats to whites when there were more riders than seats. On trains, Jim Crow policy usually required black and white passengers to ride in separate cars and to use separate dining and wash facilities. During the Journey, there were twenty-six “tests” where the participants of the Journey would go against the Jim Crow laws. Police arrested participants on six occasions, and they arrested a total of twelve men in the course of the trip. Each arrest occurred while the passengers rode on buses, not on trains, and each time the offending passenger reacted non-violently and courteously, invoking his rights under the Morgan decision without being aggressive.

The Journey was an important event in the struggle for Civil Rights. It proved that non-violent action could be taken to protest the Jim Crow laws, even with the threat of violence. The Journey built an audience of people, and it served to educate the public about the tyranny of the laws. The greatest legacy of the Journey however, is that it served as a model for the 1961 Freedom Rides, which were a major component of the Civil Rights Movement (Catsam).

1951 A court order requires the University of North Carolina to admit minority students to its graduate and professional schools. Floyd B. McKissick, Harvey Beech, J. Kenneth Lee, and James Lassiter become the first African Americans admitted to the law school.

1952 Catholic parish schools in North Carolina begin desegregation.

1954 In response to the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the Greensboro school board begins an effort to desegregate the city’s public schools.

1955 The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill admits their first African American freshmen: Leroy Frasier, John Lewis Brandon, and Ralph Frasier.

1955 The General Assembly creates a resolution opposing racial integration in the state’s public schools. This legislature gives local school boards control over the desegregation of their schools.

1956 The General Assembly implements the Pearsall Plan, which offers North Carolinians alternatives to attending integrated public schools (“History and Perspectives”).

 More on the Pearsall Plan:

The Pearsall Plan was a piece of legislation that helped end segregation in public schools. Thomas Jenkins Pearsall was ultimately in charge of heading a committee in favor of school desegregation. On New Year’s Eve of 1954, the committee delivered a report to the governor, Luther Hodges. Swayed by the report, Governor Hodges introduced a pupil assignment plan that granted the school boards control over the enrollment and assignment of students to schools and buses. This Pupil Assignment Plan would be the basis for the final Pearsall Plan. However, this plan did not completely solve the problem of desegregation, and the committee headed by Pearsall got back to work to create a more comprehensive plan. In 1956, the committee presented a new report to Hodges, this time with a greater level of detail in the procedures for desegregation. Later that year, Hodges presented what can be considered the final draft of the Pearsall Plan to the General Assembly. After review from both the House of Representatives and the Senate, the bill was finally passed on September 8th, 1956 (Carlson).

1957 Small numbers of African American students enroll in previously white public schools in Greensboro, Charlotte, and Winston-Salem.

1957 Seven black activists led by Rev. Douglas E. Moore challenge segregation with a sit-in at Durham’s Royal Ice Cream Company.

1958 A large armed group breaks up a Ku Klux Klan rally near Maxton.

1958 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visits North Carolina and delivers speeches in Raleigh and Greensboro.

1960 SNCC forms in Raleigh on the campus of Shaw University.

1960 Four black students from A&T College of North Carolina stage a peaceful sit-in after they are refused service at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro. The mode of protest used by Ezell Blair Jr., Franklin McCain, David Richmond, and Joseph McNeil quickly spreads across the South, and the group becomes known as the Greensboro 4 (“History and Perspectives”).

 More on the Greensboro 4 sit-in:

On Monday, February 1, 1960, four freshmen students from Greensboro’s black North Carolina A&T College took seats at the lunch counter of the city’s downtown Woolworth’s department store and asked to be served lunch. The waitress informed the students that it was Woolworth’s policy not to serve “colored” people. Nevertheless, the four students Ezell Blair Jr., Franklin McCain, David Richmond, and Joseph McNeil remained seated at the counter, still politely requesting to be served, staying seated until the store closed at the end of the day. These students would later go on to be known as the Greensboro Four. The next day, twenty other black students joined the Greensboro Four at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, and over the following days hundreds more would arrive to cause the first large-scale sit-in demonstration of the Civil Rights Movement. Unfortunately, the town did not tolerate these actions and Greensboro retaliated with violence. Local segregationists and members of the Ku Klux Klan physically attacked some of the protestors, and the local police arrested various others for disturbing the peace. After each arrest, as a seat at the counter opened up, another student would step forward to fill it. Interestingly, however, none of the students violated the code of nonviolence advocated by leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., A. Philip Randolph, and others. By the end of the week, Woolworth’s closed its doors to all customers in order to put a halt to the increasingly tense situation. Over the next ten days, similar protests were staged throughout the Southern States, and the “sit-in” became a recognized tactic of the Civil Rights movement. This form of nonviolent protest differed from the other commonly used methods. In contrast to boycotts and marches, sit-ins took civil rights protest to the locations where racial discrimination was most common. Many participants in this movement, mostly students attending black southern colleges and some white student sympathizers, helped to form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. This committee played a crucial role in the campaign to win voting rights for southern African Americans, and in the more belligerent Black Power Movement that emerged in the late 1960’s (Warren).

More on the members of the Greensboro 4:

Ezell Blair: Ezell Blair, Jr. was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1941. Following his graduation from Dudley High School in 1959, Blair attended North Carolina A&T State University on an academic scholarship. He is best remembered for initiating the sit-in movement where he sat down at the F. W. Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro on February 1, 1960, and requested service, despite the restaurant’s intolerance to colored people. Blair subsequently participated in negotiations between the student protestors, Woolworth’s management, and the Human Relations Commission. He continued to be active in civil rights efforts as a member of the campus chapter of the NAACP, the Greensboro Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) chapter, and as a leader in the student government association. Blair graduated from A&T in 1963 with a degree in sociology and then attended the Howard University School of Law for one year. He returned to Greensboro briefly before moving to Massachusetts in 1965. Three years later Blair joined the New England Islamic Center and took on the name Jibreel Khazan. In addition to his activities with civil rights organizations, Blair has worked as a counselor for developmentally disabled people, with the AFL/CIO Trade Council in Boston, and at the Rodman Job Corps Center. In 1994, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from North Carolina A&T State University for his role in the civil rights movement (“Civil Rights Greensboro”).

Franklin McCain: Franklin Eugene McCain was born in Union County, North Carolina, in 1942. He graduated from Eastern High School in 1959 and attended North Carolina A&T State University. McCain’s major contribution to the Civil Rights Movement was the infamous sit-in at Greensboro where he and three other A&T freshmen sat down at the F. W. Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro on February 1, 1960, and requested service, even though the restaurant had a strict policy against serving blacks. McCain also participated in the negotiations between the student protestors, Woolworth’s management, and the Human Relations Commission. In 1964, McCain graduated from A&T with a degree in chemistry and biology. The following year he married a woman by the name of Bettye Davis, a Bennett College alumna and fellow participant in the Greensboro civil rights demonstrations. McCain also began work for the Celanese Corporation in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he worked for almost 35 years. McCain remained involved in numerous civic activities and community organizations, including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, in which he served as chairman of the North Carolina regional committee. He has also served on the boards of both Bennett College and North Carolina Central University. In 1994 McCain received an honorary doctorate from North Carolina A&T State University for his contribution to the civil rights movement (“Civil Rights Greensboro”).

David Richmond: David Richmond was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1941. He attended Jonesboro Elementary, Lincoln Junior High, and Dudley High School, where he graduated in 1959. After graduation, Richmond attended North Carolina A&T State University, where he participated in the Greensboro sit-in along with the rest of the Greensboro Four. After graduating from A&T, Richmond had trouble finding employment. Nevertheless, he held jobs at CETA (Comprehensive Employment Training Act), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Cone Mills, and the Greensboro Health Care Center. In the late 1970s, Richmond moved to Franklin, North Carolina, to care for his parents. In 1980, he was awarded the Levi Coffin Award for leadership in Human Rights. I990 he would receive an honorary doctorate of humanities from A&T. Sadly, he died this same year on December 7th (“Civil Rights Greensboro”).

Joseph McNeil: Joseph Alfred McNeil was born in 1942 in Wilmington, North Carolina. He graduated from Williston Senior High School in 1959 and later attended North Carolina A&T State University on a full scholarship. Although McNeil is most remembered for being a part of the Greensboro sit-in, he has also contributed to the Civil Rights Movement in other ways. After the sit-in, McNeil became involved in the formation of the Student Executive Committee for Justice, a group created in response to the sit-ins. He also participated in negotiations between student protestors, Woolworth’s management, and the Human Relations Commission. McNeil was also in ROTC, and he graduated in 1963 with a degree in engineering physics. Immediately after his graduation the U.S. Air Force commissioned him. In 1967, McNeil married the former Ina Brown, whom he met while stationed in South Dakota. He also served as a navigator off the Vietnamese Coast during six years of active duty in the Air Force. Additionally, McNeil joined the Federal Aviation Administration; however, he remained in the Air Force Reserve. In 2000, he retired from the Air Force Reserve with the rank of major general, and two years later he also retired from the Federal Aviation Administration, which he served for over 15 years. Following his retirement, McNeil remained involved in numerous civic activities and community organizations in Hempstead, New York. In 1994, he received an honorary doctorate from North Carolina A&T State University for his role in the civil rights movement. Moreover, McNeil also received an honorary doctorate in 1998 from the St. Johns University (“Civil Rights Greensboro”).

Works Cited

Carlson, Arthur Larentz., and Wade G. Dudley. With All Deliberate Speed: The Pearsall Plan and School Desegregation in North Carolina, 1954-1966. Diss. East Carolina University, 2011. Print.

Catsam, Derek. Freedom’s Main Line: The Journey of Reconciliation and the Freedom Rides. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 2009. Print.

“Civil Rights Greensboro.” Civil Rights Greensboro. UNCG Library, n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.

“History and Perspectives.” History and Perspectives. North Carolina Museum of History, 17 Aug. 2004. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.

Warren, Christopher L. “Greensboro Sit-Ins.” Encyclopedia of Civil Rights in America. Ed. David Bradley and Shelley Fisher Fishkin. Vol. 2. Armonk, NY: Sharpe Reference, 1998. 411. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.

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