This year has marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Royal Ice Cream sit-in -- one of the first such events in the South, part of the struggle against legalized segregation that dominated this region for decades. (See previous BCR coverage of the anniversary here, and here.)
R. Kelly Bryant, a fixture in Durham's black community and a historian of Durham's civil rights movement (among many other topics), first tried to get the state to erect a roadside historic marker to the event back in 1999, but the application was rejected by the state commission that decides on whether such markers are worthy or not.
Bob Ashley nailed this issue head-on in his October 19 column in the Herald-Sun:
I don't envy the committee's task. Over the years, 1,513 markers have been erected, with 10 or 12 a year added recently. I'm sure an equal number of possibilities are out there.
But it would be reasonable to correct an apparent imbalance.
If you search the database for the marker program, you'll find 238 markers refer to Civil War events, some arguably marginal, such as this one in Manteo:
"Confederate channel obstructions: Wood pilings placed to stop Federal fleet in Croatan Sound, still visible at low tide."
Search for Civil Rights, and you'll find exactly two markers ([NC Office of Archives and History research supervisor Michael] Hill says a relatively new one commemorating a Martin Luther King appearance hasn't been coded with the "civil rights" keyword yet).
The good news -- as forwarded on by Eddie Davis, and as Ashley notes in his column -- is that the state committee will hear an appeal in December from Davis, Bryant and others in the Durham community over the rejection of an historic marker for the Royal Ice Cream sit-in.
Hill notes in Ashley's column that the recent attention paid to the event (by the N&O and Herald-Sun, WUNC, and other sources) serves as a "broader recommendation" to the historic relevance of the event.
Here's wishing Davis and Bryant all the best luck on the appeal. At this point in North Carolina history, it should well be the case that luck is no longer needed to begin commemorating a critical moment in our state and national history.