RALEIGH, N.C. – For 32 days in the summer of 1963, the town of Williamston roiled with anger and discontent. As many as 400 protesters marched and sang in pursuit of equal access to schools, jobs and public facilities for blacks. To commemorate their courage, the public is invited to the dedication of a North Carolina Highway Historical Marker (www.ncmarkers.com) on Sunday, July 10, at Green Memorial Church, 503 E. Main St., Williamston, at 2 p.m.
Green Memorial was the epicenter for the protest movement, where biweekly nonviolence training sessions were originated with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The protests were led locally by Sarah Small and by Golden Frinks of Edenton, a friend of Martin Luther King Jr. Tensions began simmering in 1957, with the acquittal of a white man charged with murdering a black man in the town. Williamston became a hotspot of civil rights activity, and the Williamston Freedom Movement led to personal transformations of local citizens into a community in protest.
Many of the 400 protesters were children and teen-agers who would pray and sing before marching the half mile uptown to the courthouse. The Ku Klux Klan organized rallies outside town, and one bottle-throwing protest was met with the use of electrified cattle prods. A boycott of town businesses was short-lived, and officials gradually took steps to desegregate facilities but not schools. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy coincided with the end of direct action, and protesters witnessed the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that ended legal barriers to public facilities.
For information on the Williamston marker dedication, call (252) 792-8273. For information on the N.C. Highway Historical Marker program, call (919) 807-7290.
The marker program is part of the Office of Archives and History in the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, the state agency with the mission to enrich lives and communities and the vision to harness the state’s cultural resources to build North Carolina’s social, cultural and economic future. Information on Cultural Resources is available at www.ncculture.com.
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