On Friday, the nationally-distributed public radio show The Story with Dick Gordon (produced here in the Triangle by WUNC) carried the story of the seven African-American Durhamites who carried out one of the first sit-ins of the civil rights area, at the Bull City's Royal Ice Cream fifty years ago this week.
The seven were arrested by the Durham Police Department and were found guilty of trespassing in a case that wended its way to the Supreme Court. Their crime? Refusing to enter via a blacks-only entrance and being required to be served standing, not sitting at a booth. All at an establishment in the middle of a black neighborhood, no less.
Sitting in my car at the parking deck of the American Tobacco Campus on my way back from an off-site meeting, I lingered in a car a few minutes to hear the story, the hairs on my arm standing up at Williams' calm retelling of the events that night. It's a side of Durham's history, or the South's for that matter, that I don't linger on enough in my mind, but one which is incontrovertibly linked with our national history, and our national shame. To imagine these events happening just twenty years before I was born is a sobering thought.
It's even more sobering at a time when the gains made in integrating education and housing in this country are at a greater point of challenge than at any time since the 1960s. This time, the sweaty-collared firebrands like George Wallace aren't leading the charge. No, it's led by everyday Americans, rushing off to kids' ball games and dinner at Applebee's and a quick trip to the shopping mall -- convinced that the days of segregation and inequality are over, and that affirmative action and desegregation programs have run their course.
This week's No Child Left Behind data go a long way towards demonstrating how little we've solved. But if doubters need more evidence, listen to Virginia Williams' story, and then look around you. De jure segregation is gone -- de facto segregation still reigns supreme.