Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Williamston Freedom Movement: A North Carolina Town's Struggle for Civil Rights

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Williamston Freedom Movement: A North Carolina Town's Struggle for Civil Rights

Article excerpt

The Williamston Freedom Movement: A North Carolina Town's Struggle for Civil Rights, 1957-1970. By Amanda Hilliard Smith. (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland and Company, 2014. Pp. viii, 211. Paper, $35.00, ISBN 978-07864-7636-7.)

Scholars and students of the civil rights movement are familiar with the struggles for racial equality in Deep South cities like Birmingham and Selma, where white southern leaders' hostile and sometimes violent reactions to black-led demonstrations often made national headlines. But as historian Amanda Hilliard Smith argues in The Williamston Freedom Movement: A North Carolina Towns Struggle for Civil Rights, 1957-1970, a community's ability to gain national attention does not always equate with its level of importance to the civil rights movement. Her example is Williamston, North Carolina, which is usually considered nothing but a "historical footnote in the Civil Rights Movement" (p. 4). Smith shows how civil rights leaders in Williamston were able to usher in local changes without national attention and explains why Williamston "never became a major movement" (p. 5).

Smith argues that the presence of white moderates and disciplined law enforcement officials, who feared that an extreme response would only draw more attention to the protests, initially helped keep Williamston out of national headlines. However, the arrival of Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) field secretary Golden Frinks to help with a voter registration campaign in 1963 set off a wave of local sit-ins and demonstrations at segregated public spaces across Williamston. Publicity increased again a few weeks later when fifteen white ministers from the Massachusetts branch of the SCLC arrived. …

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