The Story of Service, Part 5: NC School Desegregation

On July 26, a mural named SERVICE was dedicated at UNC’s School of Government in the Knapp-Sanders Building. The mural depicting a gathering of African American leaders at the counter of a diner was painted by Colin Quashie as a creative interpretation of the historical 1960 Greensboro, North Carolina sit-in. We will be featuring each of the eight panels in a series, highlighting some of the people represented. Check the archives for all of our posts in this series.

The fifth panel of SERVICE, North Carolina School Integration, represents a conflict that continues today. Charlotte schools were integrated in 1957, and many whites protested the move by not allowing their children to ride school buses with black children. This scenario is depicted in the background of the fifth panel: a view of the inside of a school bus as a young African American girl sits alone with her head turned towards the diner scene.

This year North Carolina has seen a new school segregation battle heat up in Wake County (Raleigh), whose busing program to keep schools economically diverse has bussed kids far from their neighborhoods for years. This program is now being challenged by proponents of neighborhood schools, but civil rights leaders and activists are protesting the end of the program. North Carolina NAACP president Rev. William Barber and historian Timothy Tyson are leading figures in the movement to keep the busing policy in place. Tyson wrote about black power activist Robert F. Williams, who is also depicted in the panel (seated, far right), in the book Radio Free Dixie.

The individuals depicted in the fifth panel represent people with diverse backgrounds in their leadership. Here are a few highlights on this group:

brownCharlotte Eugenia Hawkins Brown (standing, center) was a remarkable woman who worked as an educator and established the Alice Freeman Palmer Institute. Her achievements in working against discrimination and segregation showed true dedication to the cause; the Palmer Institute became a premier private academic institute for African American children. The school became the first historical landmark in North Carolina to be identified with an African American. Charles W. Wadelington and Richard F. Knapp write about Brown in Charlotte Hawkins Brown: What One Young African American Woman Could Do.

Clarence Everett Lightner (standing, left) was the first (and to this day, the only) black mayor of Raleigh. He gained national attention with his election, as only 16% of registered voters in Raleigh were black. Serving in the early 1970s, Lightner was in office while many black citizens remained disenfranchised, but he made huge strides as a political leader.

Charles Norfleet Hunter (standing, right) was born into slavery but became the voice of the African American community as a journalist and educator. Robert F. Williams was a militant civil rights leader whose beliefs helped inspire groups such as the Black Panther Party, the NCC, and the Revolutionary Action Movement. Golden Asro Frinks (seated, left) was jailed 87 times for civil disobedience as he helped organized protests around the country. Charles Waddell Chesnutt (seated, center) was an author, lawyer, teacher, and businessman. His writings can be found in The North Carolina Roots of African American: An Anthology.

Don’t forget to check back every Tuesday for more about the SERVICE mural.