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The Voice of the Black Community

Black History

Chapel Hill recognizes key members of town’s civil rights struggle
Black student activists staged town’s first sit-in in 1960
Published Tuesday, December 4, 2018
by Freda Freeman, Correspondent

CHAPEL HILL – Members of the Chapel Hill Nine were honored for their bravery and commitment to the civil rights struggle during the launch of the “Opening Our Future” exhibit at Chapel Hill Library Friday.

Mayor Pam Hemminger created the Historic Civil Rights Commemorations Task Force in 2017 to document the town’s civil rights history. The task force created a timeline and traveling exhibit that identifies people, places, and events that should be remembered for their role in the struggle. The exhibit includes a documentary film, which will soon be online, and Chapel Hill Civil Rights Trading Cards, which will have an accompanying curriculum. The Chapel Hill Town Council also approved erecting a commemorative marker to honor the group.

The Chapel Hill Nine, a group of Lincoln High School students, staged a sit-in on Feb. 28, 1960, at the former Colonial Drugstore on Franklin Street, where they were denied service because they were black. The sit-in sparked subsequent protests and demonstrations. The students, who were later arrested and charged with civil disobedience, were Harold Foster, William Cureton, both 18 at the time; John Farrington, Dave Mason Jr., Clarence Merritt Jr., Douglas “Clyde” Perry, each 17; and Earl Geer, James Merritt and Albert Williams, each 16. Five are deceased.

Hemminger created the task force after meeting with Mason’s daughter, Danita Mason-Hogans.

“I got to hear the history of bravery of our young folk. These young people did something amazing. We like to consider ourselves in Chapel Hill to be an open and welcoming community, but that hasn’t always been our story. And these young people said this isn’t right, this just isn’t right,” Hemminger said.

Former Mayor Ken Broun, task force chairman, said, “Their courage and the example that they set is a lesson to all of us….They began the struggle that is far from over, and their descendants can continue it.”

Fielding questions from the audience, the surviving members of the Chapel Hill Nine were asked if they were scared during the sit-in. “Yes, we were afraid for our safety,” Perry said. “Emmett Till had been killed five years before that happened, and nothing had been done about that. That was always in the back of our mind.”

Mason-Hogans said she started the effort not just to recognize the Chapel Hill Nine, but so “we can’t ignore an entire community.” She referred to the spark that ignited when four North Carolina A&T University students staged the first sit-in in Greensboro in 1960.

“That inspired a whole nation of youth to say it’s time for us to take this into our own hand. So Chapel Hill can really be proud of the fact that these were high school students. A&T had the first direct action in the ‘60s from college students, but Chapel Hill, to the best of my knowledge, had the first direct action from high school students,” she said.

Mason-Hogans said there are many stories about black Chapel Hill that have yet to be uncovered. It’s not just about what black people did in the 1960s, but it’s about what they continue to do, she said.

“Maybe this will inspire another black child in Chapel Hill to say you didn’t come from nothing, you came from somewhere. And it didn’t just start in 1960, and it didn’t end in 1969,” she said.

Mason said the Chapel Hill Nine are proud of the role they played in the town’s history. “As a result of the movement, contemporary generations now take for granted the disappearance of the white and colored side, of being able to eat in a restaurant or staying in a hotel. The Chapel Hill Nine will always feel in some small way that we helped to make the world a bit better.”



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