Earlier this month, the North Carolina Museum of History unveiled a new on-line Civil Rights exhibit titled “A Change is Gonna Come: Black, Indian, and White Voices for Racial Equality.” When most people think of the fight for Civil Rights in North Carolina, they tend to think of Greensboro. On February 1, 1960, four young men from North Carolina A&T — Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr., and David Richmond — walked to the Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Greensboro, sat down, and waited to be served. They were not, at least not that day. Their somber and dignified action not only challenged law and tradition, but also reengerized the movement to overthrow segregation in North Carolina and across the South. But, their heroic act was only one of many steps along the meandering path towards equality.
Not only does “A Change is Gonna Come” recognize the key events and actors in North Carolina’s struggle for Civil Rights, but it also recognizes what historians have come to call “the Long Civil Rights Movement.” Put simply, the fight for equality did not start with the Brown decision in 1954. Rather, this site recognizes that the history of Civil Rights is embedded throughout the history of our state. Greensboro, as important as it remains, was not the first sit-in in North Carolina. On June 23, 1957, a group of African American teenagers entered the segregated Royal Ice Cream stand in Durham and refused to leave when they were not served. They were arrested for trespassing and their case eventually wormed its way to the United States Supreme Court, which refused to hear it. Other African Americas preceded even these teens in taking actions, large and small, to push the cause of Civil Rights. The point is, the quest for equality did not develop in a linear way and was never a steady march to a foregone, progressive conclusion. And it is more than just an experience shared by African Americans. In North Carolina, Native Americans and white North Carolinians also took important and heroic stands, and in doing so enriched and expanded the meaning of freedom for all in our state.
Starting with the 1830 Indian Removal Act, this site is clearly focused and offers viewers narratives, images, and documents that trace the Long Civil Rights Movement in North Carolina. It is a step in the right direction for exhibits of this type, broadening context to help viewers better answer how history unfolded, but more importantly, why events occurred as they did. Teachers, students, and anyone interested in Tar Heel history should check out this exhibit. It’s worth your time.