Carl White's Life in the Carolinas

February 1, 1960
by
Suzelle Sinclair
suzelle.sinclair@earthlink.net

 

Equal rights, fair play, justice, are all like the air: we all have it, or none of us has it.”
― Maya Angelou

ORIGINAL ART BY SUZELLE SINCLAIR

I woke on Saturday morning excited about my plans for the day. Gracie, my faithful pup, lay sleeping at the foot of my bed. She barely moved when I hopped out of the bed and threw open the drapes to let the sunshine flood into the room. To my surprise, there were overcast skies and a beautiful white blanket of newly fallen snow covered the lawn and road. As I pulled the curtains back together, Gracie looked up at me as if to say, “I could have told you.” I grabbed my laptop and curled back under my cozy covers. It appeared that I was snowbound. I decided to surf the web for adventures I could enjoy once the snow melted.

For many years I have wanted to visit the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. It is housed in the former Woolworth’s, which was the site of the famous February 1, 1960 lunch counter sit-in. The store closed in January of 1994. In the 1990s I worked on Elm Street, just blocks from the then-vacant Woolworth’s. At that time, Elm Street had many vacant shops, but this building always captured my attention. The store, which opened in 1929, was designed by Charles Hartmann. The building design combined Art Deco and classical elements.

PHOTO COURTESY OF INTERNATIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS CENTER AND MUSEUM

Many times as I walked past, I would imagine what the street and shop were like some thirty years earlier. Looking through the windows, I could see the lunch counter. The chrome backs and red and teal leather seats always caught my eye. Although the building stood vacant, there was an energy that radiated from the space. Even in its empty state and to a young woman who did not yet grasp the significance of the events that had taken place there, it emanated a commanding presence. In 2010, I was extremely pleased to learn that 50 years after the famous sit-in, the building was to be restored to new life as the International Civil Rights Center & Museum. 

PHOTO COURTESY OF INTERNATIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS CENTER AND MUSEUM

To my delight, I discovered on the website that the museum has a number of virtual tours, including ones that offer live interactive Zoom sessions. This meant that I did not have to wait for the snow to melt to visit. I selected my tour and enjoyed it from the warmth and comfort of home. The virtual tour was exceptional. Beyond learning many things, I gained a greater understanding of the ripples that remain from a time not so long ago. I think for most of us who were born after the end of segregation, it is hard to comprehend what life was like prior to the Civil Right Act of 1964. While the online tours and resources are exceptional, they made me look forward to an in-person visit all the more. I look forward to visiting that familiar landmark with new eyes and greater understanding.

PHOTO COURTESY OF INTERNATIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS CENTER AND MUSEUM

As my tour ended, I envisioned what it would have been like to live in a time before the civil rights movement. My thoughts went to the treasured lunches I often have with my dear friend Sandra. She is well educated, wise, delightful company … and Black. I can’t imagine her not being welcomed anywhere. But, less than 60 years ago, things would have been much different. I wonder how our relationship would have been impacted by living in a different time and different culture. 

Maya Angelou once stated, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” Those words motivate me to be more aware of the world around me today and try, as Maya Angelou advised, to face the injustice in the world with courage, so that painful history need not be repeated. 

For information about The International Civil Rights Center and Museum or to arrange in-person or virtual tours visit: https://www.sitinmovement.org

CHARLOTTE WEATHER