Durham past, Durham future
Yesterday, Eddie Davis organized a panel discussion and gathering at the Durham County library to celebrate and honor the Royal 7, seven African Americans who took part in what was probably the first organized sit-in protesting America's apartheid era, fifty years ago. The Royal Ice Cream parlor stood on the corner of Roxboro and Dowd; in recent years it was the site of Charles Dunham's restaurant, but was recently torn down to make way for a church related education center.
Virginia Williams (above) and the Rev. Douglas Moore, who both participated in the 1957 sit-in, were present, and talked about how the event came about, and how it transpired, and how the North Carolina legal system upheld the convictions of the seven for violating the then existing racial segregation laws, which made it a crime for African Americans to sit in seats reserved for whites.
For someone like me, who was a very small child when these events, and the subsequent, more publicized protests in Greensboro a few years later were taking place and leading, eventually, to sweeping changes in our nation's laws, seeing this living history helps me understand a little better the process by which cultural change of this magnitude can take place. We tend to look at the process through a media magnifying lens which makes it easy to forget the real struggles of the essentially ordinary people who took these extraordinary steps.
A day prior, a different event pointed toward the future, when the public swearing in ceremony for Durham's new police chief Jose Lopez, Sr. was held in City Hall. In 1957, the laws of the city and state, and those sworn to uphold them, were used to deny justice to many of our residents, for no reasons other than skin color and fear.
The appointment of a Hispanic police chief in a city like Durham, which historically does not have a Spanish speaking population base, but which is changing rapidly, speaks volumes to the way we choose to embrace the future. New residents bringing cultural differences into our lives need not be a source of fear moving forward, unless we choose to be afraid. The send-off that Mr. Lopez received from his colleagues in Hartford, and the welcome shown to him by his new associates in Durham was encouraging and heart-warming.
All of which makes these recent reports all the more troubling. Thomas Stith's dad was part of the movement for social justice in our town. He is reportedly campaigning by condemning racial profiling on the one hand, yet calling for increased police action against a group of people based on nothing more than their appearance and the language that they speak?
Is that a choice we want to make for Durham?