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The Civil Rights Movement in Chapel Hill, Part One

 by Charly Mann


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Sharon Porter      4:22 PM Thu 7/21/2011

I was a sophomore at Duke University during the Civil Rights demonstrations that were coordinated by Pat Cusick and others in cooperation with CORE. This movement was documented in a book by John Ehle called The Free Men. In that book there is a full page picture of me sitting in the middle of Franklin Street, where I was known as "the Madonna of Franklin Street" because of the prayerful stillness I learned to maintain while I was jeered at from all sides by angry whites, some of them bumping their pick-up trucks against my body to try to make me move. My husband, Robert Sitton, was teaching at UNC while working on his dissertation at Duke. He would have lost his job if he had joined us in blocking traffic, so he helped keep me alive by pretending to take photos of us which would documented our tormenters. I say pretended because we couldn't afford the film to take real pictures.

Our group of demonstrators would meet on Saturday mornings at a church where we would get fired up by speeches and sing gorgeous, vibrant Freedom songs to get us into the state where we would be able to risk our lives for a cause we knew was worth dying for. Our whole movement was designed to show that even in the Southern Part of Heaven, a national Civil Rights Bill was necessary to give black people equal rights. When Lyndon Johnson signed that bill, he correctly predicted that his signature meant the end of dominance of the Democrat Party in the South for many generations.

Those of us who were assigned to block traffic would go limp when we were arrested and then be transported to the local jail, where we would sing straight through the night, filled with love and determination. We were fed a baloney sandwich once a day and were released by Monday morning, which allowed me to get back to class in Durham. My courses seemed less and less real in comparison to these weekends, whose memory still brings me to tears. I was forever changed by these seminal months, which began the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The moment I heard of his death, I knew it was up to us, the citizens, to take over to get change. I wish more people felt like that today.

The stillness within me, compelled by a heart burning with purpose, has continued to shape my life. I have served as a yoga teacher, natural health practitioner, trauma specialist and body centered, energy medicine trainer for 40 years. A few months ago I put together six hours of interviews with a black friend, Edith Stone-Jackson, on her 30 years of research on the realities of slavery and its effect on African Americans and the rest of the colors in modern American life. These interviews led me to sociologist Dr. Joy deGruy's book and workbook: Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome, a brilliant study that shows how much has yet to be done and that more than answered my question of how, after we changed so many laws and hearts during the civil rights movement, the life of most black people in America is still so in need of improvement.


ROBBYN TOLLIVER      11:10 PM Sun 2/13/2011


Mike Preston      5:21 AM Wed 9/9/2009


Thanks for the email about the site !

Looking at the picture from Junior High , I am on the left of Sandra. Others I recall that you didnt are Donna Huff, bottom left and Alan ?, top right.

Sandra was a true "trailblazer" and a delightful person. She helped make the transition to a totally integreted high school easier for all students.

Rodney and I were best friends in high school. The two of us along with classmates and football teammates David Taylor , Mike Earey, John Riggsbee, Lee Sloan, Tom Merritt, etc were the first to meet our new classmates and teammates from the old Lincoln High in August 1966 before school actually started. Two old Lincoln High students I specifically remember, Thurmond Couch and Larry Edwards, helped "mold" all the guys ,black and white, into a "team". I remember that when school started that September the football team already stood together as one and for the two years left until we graduated in 1968 ,we became better friends and people because of our "bond" as athletes.

I will enjoy the site and "chime" in if I can.


Nora Gaskin Esthimer      7:32 PM Wed 9/2/2009

I graduated from CHHS in 1969, then went to Carolina. Charly, I was going to say I was too young to be active in what was going on--then I read that you were 11. Good for you.

I count the showing of Porgy and Bess at the Carolina as my awakening to the real impact of discrimination. It seemed (and was, of course) ridiculous that black people couldn't go see Porgy and
Bess. My parents were vocal in our home about prejudice--they were against it, God bless them--but it took that incident to make me see for myself.


Anne Ray Swindell      2:10 PM Sun 8/23/2009

I graduated from CHHS in 1964. We were the last class to graduate as a segregated class. We did have a Black male begin the school year with us, but did not finish with us. The class after us (1965) was integrated.

Mindy Chambers      1:18 PM Sun 7/26/2009

Someone just told me about Chapel Hill Memories. I thought it was just going to be a bunch of facts about the town. I love that it really offers your personal connection to much of its history.

Steve Peterson      8:40 PM Thu 7/23/2009

The Chapel Hill school system should name a school in your honor.

Pam Patterson      9:17 PM Wed 7/22/2009

How do you see race relations in Chapel Hill today as compared to when you were growing up? I am 31, African-American, and have lived in Chapel Hill since 1990. To me the races are very far apart, and most of us are still second class citizens.

Sue Whitaker      5:44 PM Wed 7/22/2009

What a great find. I grew up in Chapel Hill. Lived there from 1952 until 1962 & attended the elementary/junior high & high school on Franklin Street. I can still reconstruct the downtown shops in my head.

Victoria Carr      5:12 PM Wed 7/22/2009

I can not imagine an eleven year old today being so involved in important social issues. Did your parents ever express concerns for your safety?

Cynthia Sharp      3:27 PM Wed 7/22/2009

I just saw a piece in the Chapel Hill News on Chapel Hill Memories. I've only read a few of your pieces, but must say I'm impressed at how extensive your coverage is of the town's past.

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Bite Sized Facts Link

Chapel Hill is located on a hill whose only distinguishing feature in the 18th century was a small chapel on top called New Hope Chapel. This church was built in 1752 and is currently the location of The Carolina Inn. The town was founded in 1819, and chartered in 1851.



What is it that binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. or the crisp October nights. No, our love for this place is based upon the fact that it is as it was meant to be, The University of the People.

-- Charles Kuralt



Dark Side of the Hill -- Pink Floyd, the creators of the most popular album in history, Dark Side of the Moon, took the second half of their name from Floyd Council, a Chapel Hill native, and great blues singer and guitarist. He once belonged to a group called "The Chapel Hillbillies".



Check out Charly Mann's other website:
Oklahoma Birds and Butterflies



We need your help. Send your submissions, ideas, photos, and questions to CHMemories@gmail.com.





There would probably be no Chapel Hill if the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees in 1793 had not chosen land across from New Hope Chapel for the location of the university. By 1800 there were about 100 people living in thirty houses surrounding the campus.



The University North Carolina's first student was Hinton James, who enrolled in February, 1795. There is now a dormitory on the campus named in his honor.





The University of North Carolina was closed from 1870 to 1875 because of lack of state funding.





William Ackland left his art collection and $1.25 million to Duke University in 1940 on the condition that he would be buried in the art museum that the University was to build with his bequest. Duke rejected this condition even though members of the Duke Family are buried in Duke Chapel. What followed was a long and acrimonious legal battle between Ackland relatives who now wanted the inheritance, Rollins College, and the University of North Carolina, each attempting to receive the funds. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and in 1949 UNC was awarded the money for the museum. Ackland is buried near the museum's entrance. When the museum first opened, in the early sixties, there were rumors that his remains were leaking out of the mausoleum.



The official name of the Arboretum on the University of North Carolina campus is the Coker Arboretum. It is named after Dr. William Cocker, the University's first botany professor. It occupies a little more than five acres. It was founded in 1903.



Chapel Hill's main street has always been called Franklin Street. It was named after Benjamin Franklin in the early 1790s.



We need your help. Send your submissions, ideas, photos, and questions to CHMemories@gmail.com.



Chapel Hill High School and Chapel Hill Junior High were on Franklin Street in the same location as University Square until the mid 1960s.



The Colonial Drug Store at 450 West Franklin Street was owned and operated by John Carswell. It was famous for a fresh-squeezed carbonated orange beverage called a "Big O". In the early 1970s, I managed the Record and Tape Center next door, and must have had over 100 of those drinks. The Colonial Drug Store closed in 1996.



Sutton's Drugstore, which opened in 1923, has one of the last soda fountains in the South. It is one of the few businesses remaining on Franklin Street that was in operation when I was growing up in the 1950s.



Future President Gerald Ford lived in Chapel Hill twice. First when he was 24, in 1938, he took a law couse in summer school at UNC. He lived in the Carr Building, which was a law school dormitory. At the same time, Richard Nixon, the man he served under as Vice President, was attending law school at Duke. In 1942, Ford returned to Chapel Hill to attend the U.S. Navy's Pre-Flight School training program. He lived in a rental house on Hidden Hills Drive.



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