Past Times

NC race issues hit a boiling point in the summer of ’63

Protestors complained that the newspapers did not adequately cover desegregation efforts.
Protestors complained that the newspapers did not adequately cover desegregation efforts. N&O Photo

The summer of 1963 was a tumultuous time for race relations in North Carolina. A riot in June in the Davidson County town of Lexington left one man dead and a newspaper photographer injured and caught the eye of the world.

Writer Tom Bolch brought news of the unrest to N&O readers.

It is ironic that fate picked this Piedmont city to be the scene of racial violence and that its citizens would fire a shot heard around the world.

This city got its name as a result of another shot heard ’round the world, the opening shot of the American Revolutionary War….

News of the fatal shooting here Thursday night of Fred Link, 26, and the wounding of a photographer during a race riot was flashed around the globe by wire services. By Friday, newsmen from throughout the State had arrived to cover the story.

Two representatives of the London Daily Express rushed here from New York City as well as a Washington-based reporter from the New York Times and television, radio and movie news-reel newsmen. Tokyo called to ask if the mayor had declared a state of emergency.

The racial clash resulted when a crowd of whites, angered over integration attempts the previous night, marched to the Negro section on First Street and began throwing rocks and bottles at Negro homes.

Police were unable to control the mob and shots were fired about an hour and a half after the rock-throwing began. …

The situation that sparked the riot was ironic as well. Even Negro leaders… admitted that Lexington has had a long history of good relations between the races.

And better communication between the races was being sought by white and Negro leaders.…

Some 14 Negro teen-agers, impatient with the slowness showed by their elders in seeking an end to segregation practices at local restaurants, drug stores and entertainment facilities, visited a bowling alley, drug store and theater Wednesday night to test racial barriers.

A group of whites lounging at an all-night cafe on Main Street, the Red Pig, noticed the Negroes enter the drug store, where they were served at a lunch counter without incident.

They followed the Negroes, taunting them with jeers.

Rumors about the integration attempts spread from mouth to mouth throughout Davidson County and the “facts” of the integration attempts were embellished each time they were retold. The N&O June 9, 1963

The Lexington riot may have been a top story around the world, but demonstrators in Raleigh complained that newspapers there were ignoring the issue.

A crowd of approximately 500 Negroes, carrying placards, gathered in front of The Raleigh Times-News and Observer building last night threatening to boycott the city’s two newspapers for their manner of covering news events about Negroes.

A leader of the demonstrators, Charles Earle of Shaw University, accused The Raleigh Times and The News and Observer of failure to provide front page coverage for anti-segregation events and threatened economic reprisals.…

“We pay the same price as any other man,” he said.…

“We had 1,000 people on the street last night. This morning’s paper said we had 500 with a handful of whites.”

Claiming newspapers all over the country carried accounts of anti-segregation events, Earle said, “All places get front page coverage except Raleigh.” The Raleigh Times June 4, 1963

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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