Beyond Greensboro: The rest of the story

jbordsen@charlotteobserver.comFebruary 23, 2013 

  • Then and now

    Outside the museum I met Anita Johnson, a Greensboro native and the museum’s scheduling coordinator and a tour guide. At 15 – nine or 10 years after the sit-in – she worked in a youth program for the late David Richmond.

    “I knew he was much a part of the Greensboro Four, but he didn’t mention it much. We were all about the business at hand. We worked downtown, and I ate at Woolworth’s.”

    Johnson said when she was little, her family would go downtown to shop there on Saturdays. “Before we went, my mother would say, ‘We can eat now or eat after.’ We couldn’t eat at Woolworth’s. Early on, we were groomed to know what not to do.” -- John Bordsen

The 1960 Greensboro sit-in helped sparked the civil rights movement.

The rest of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum shows what led up to it and what followed. The lighting is dark, and you’ll pass through rooms with loaned items and photographic blowups – photography is not allowed.

Pass through a re-creation of the “Colored Entrance” of the Greensboro train station to view displays showing aspects of segregation. Actual objects, inherently more telling, include a drinking fountain for African-Americans (painted black), a restroom door with “Colored Women” painted on it. Pages from a travel guide list “Negro Hotels and Guest Houses” as well as restaurants, taverns and beauty parlors.

A double-sidedCoke machine has a side for whites to use (5 cents) and a side for others (10 cents). The guide said the machine had two motors.

The black response to segregation – and its blowback – follows; artifacts include a small, broken rosette from a stained-glass window of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., bombed by segregationists in 1963. There’s video footage of James Meredith, a veteran, integrating a hostile University of Mississippi in 1962.

The voting-rights debate escalated matters. At a video kiosk you can try to answer some of the questions asked (illegally) of blacks trying to vote.

It also spotlights the role of the media. A touch-screen map shows where Freedom Riders were active; tap your Southern city and see how it was covered in newspapers and magazines. One Life magazine headline: “Asking for Trouble – and Getting It.”

Television brought the civil rights movement into people’s homes, a phenomenon that becomes jarringly real in a gallery where eight TV screens show footage of the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott (1955); Freedom Riders (1961); demonstrations in Birmingham, Ala., Greensboro and the March on Washington – all in 1963 – the Selma-to-Montgomery march (1965) and the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike and the assassination there of Martin Luther King Jr. (1968).

The larger storyline effectively stops there. (A case at the end notes gives a passing nod to later international struggles in places like Kosovo and Tiananmen Square.)

Photo displays in the main exhibits and side areas add faces – black and white – of some involved in the civil rights movement. A Wall of Remembrance spotlights some who died, such as Virgil Lamar Ware, killed Sept. 15, 1963 in Birmingham, by white teens who had attended a segregation rally. Virgil, 13, was shot while riding on the handlebars of his brother’s bicycle.

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