Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Black Struggle for Freedom

By William H. Chafe | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER FIVE
"My Feet Took Wings"

The students have set up a beachhead on the shores of freedom, and we're going to move in.

Charles Anderson, a black minister, to a mass rally of twelve hundred people at United Institutional Baptist Church, 1963

In the past we have had to swallow the insults, smile at the pain, and quench the spirit of human dignity throbbing in our breast. We had to act in so many ways as though we believed in our own inferiority in order to get along and survive. This day is over.

Inaugural Address, President Samuel Proctor, A&T University, 1962

Between May 11 and June 7, 1963, Greensboro was rocked by unprecedented demonstrations. For eighteen nights, black marchers numbering more than 2000 assaulted the bastions of segregation in the city's central business district. At one point 1400 blacks, most of them college students and teenagers from area high schools, occupied Greensboro's jails. The demonstrations shattered white Greensboro's confident self- image, shook the city's social and political institutions to their foundations, and emphasized as never before the conflict between racial justice and North Carolina's progressive mystique.


I

All during the spring signs of the impending crisis had appeared with mounting frequency. In addition to the insistent demands of school desegregation groups, Dr. George Simkins and the NAACP raised questions about city personnel procedures. In early March Simkins pointed out to Mayor David Schenck that no blacks were enrolled in Greensboro's police reserves. Of the five who recently had applied, three had received notices of rejection. A month later the NAACP leader was back, this time with a query about why a black truck driver for the sanitation department made significantly less than a white truck driver. Meanwhile, others expressed their anger more directly. Three times during early 1963 blacks picketed City Hall to protest discrimination in the hiring and

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