Smithfield: Opinion

A weekend on the road

Here are some thoughts after a weekend spent largely out and about.

On Saturday, my wife and I traveled to Greensboro to visit the International Civil Rights Center & Museum. In junior high, I was student of the Civil Rights Movement in this country, so I wanted to see the museum, which opened in 2010.

At the end of our guided tour, the guide encouraged our group to rate the museum on Trip Advisor, a website, so here are my thoughts, which the folks at Trip Advisor are free to use:

It’s a solid museum with powerful images and artifacts. On balance, the images are better than the artifacts, though the best artifact is hard to beat. It’s the original Woolworth’s lunch counter where the Greensboro Four – four N.C. A&T State University students – staged sit-ins that would eventually open previously whites-only places to blacks.

The price for adults – $12 – was fair, I thought, but the museum offers only guided tours, and that didn’t work for me and my wife. I get why the tours are guided only. If visitors were allowed to roam the exhibits unaccompanied, the museum would need to hire someone to staff every room, an expensive proposition. As it was, I saw just five museum employees on Saturday, and one of those was washing the windows.

Also, the exhibits include right much text that’s impossible to read in the time allowed by a guided tour, and that’s me talking. My wife is a much bigger exhibit reader than I am, so I know she would have liked more time in the museum.

My biggest qualm, personally, was with the ban on photography. I have been taking photos since Santa Claus brought me a Kodak Instamatic as a kid, and I have never once sold a photo for profit. When my wife was a classroom teacher, she occasionally used some of my photos in her lessons, but I didn’t profit; only her students did, which hardly seems a sin to me. I would have liked to have snapped a photo or two of the Woolworth’s lunch counter and would have gladly agreed to whatever prohibitions the museum demanded on disseminating the images. Instead, the camera around my neck was a very expensive piece of costume jewelry that didn’t have to be.

While we’re on the subject of Greensboro, I will confess to being surprised by the number of vacant storefronts downtown. I figured downtown Greensboro was much like downtown Raleigh and downtown Asheville, the beneficiary of new people – residents and businesses – and their money. And downtown Greensboro had much of that; my wife and I had a late lunch at a place I found online and then dessert at a place specializing in cheesecakes. But so many storefronts were vacant, with evidence that businesses had tried but failed to succeed downtown.

I know nothing of their history, but none of the defunct businesses were household names, suggesting that when the brand names leave downtown for the U.S. and interstate highways, mom-and-pop businesses take their place. Some succeed – like the very good cheesecake place – but others fail. I’m OK with that, because that’s how free markets and free enterprise are supposed to work. I just hope Greensboro and other cities with downtowns in transition make it as easy as possible for entrepreneurs to do business downtown. After all, their zoning decisions made it possible for businesses to leave downtown for the greener pastures of nearby highways.

Closer to home, I spent some time Sunday on Sam’s Branch Greenway in Clayton. I went ostensibly, with camera in hand, to seek the last colors of fall. But I was also curious to know how many people use the greenway.

Sadly, the fall colors were all but gone, but plenty of folks – families, couples, seniors, middle-aged newspaper editors – were using the greenway. I was impressed.

In a casual email conversation a year or two ago, Clayton Town Manager Steve Biggs said he was most proud of the parks and greenways the town has developed during his long tenure. Based on what I saw Sunday, he has every reason to be.

Scott Bolejack: 919-836-5747, @ScottBolejack