In honor of Black History Month, we at The Echo thought it fitting to publish a list of important dates in the Civil Rights struggle as it occurred in North Carolina. Other important events that occurred outside of North Carolina were also included. This information was gathered from the North Carolina Museum of History, as well as transcripts from an oral history by the Mayor of Asheville who oversaw integration of schools in the 1960s. Unfortunately, the inclusion of women in this narrative is minimal and was difficult to find. A shame, considering the theme of this year’s Black History Month is devoted to the many women who have fought racism and sexism in this country. We hope that this timeline promotes awareness, but that it also gives our readers an edge in history trivia.
1831 The General Assembly passes legislation forbidding Black preachers to speak at gatherings of slaves from different owners, and forbidding anyone to teach slaves to read and write.
1861 North Carolina lawmakers prohibit any Black person from owning or controlling a slave, making it impossible for a free person of color to buy freedom for a family member or friend. North Carolina secedes from the Union on May 20.
1861-65 Approximately 42,000 North Carolinians lose their lives in the Civil War. Many slaves leave their plantations and seek refuge behind Northern lines in Federal-occupied areas of the state, and some join the Union army.
1865 A state convention votes to repeal the Ordinance of Secession and end slavery. North Carolina ratifies the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which officially abolishes slavery. Freedmen hold a political march in Raleigh to ask for equal rights.
1875 Amendments to the state constitution establish separate public schools for black and White children and forbid marriage between African Americans and Whites.
1900 Democrats regain control of the governorship and the General Assembly through a harsh White supremacy campaign. The “Suffrage Amendment” to the state constitution institutes a literacy requirement for voting. It includes a “grandfather clause” that allows illiterate White men to vote but effectively disfranchises men of color.
1911 The Greensboro city council passes an ordinance requiring separate White and Black residential areas. Other southern cities have similar ordinances.
1938 African American students in Greensboro initiate a theater boycott to protest the absence of racially balanced movies.
1940 North Carolina abolishes the poll tax, used to limit minority voting.
1947 CORE tests a Supreme Court decision against segregation in interstate bus travel by sending eight Black men on Greyhound and Trailways bus rides. Riders are arrested in Asheville, Durham, and Chapel Hill. This “Journey of Reconciliation” becomes the model for the 1961 Freedom Rides.
1951 A court order requires the University of North Carolina to admit minority students to its graduate and professional schools. Floyd B. McKissick, Harvey Beech, J. Kenneth Lee, and James Lassiter become the first African Americans admitted to the law school.
1952 With the enrollment of Alma Lee Shippy, Warren Wilson College becomes the first undergraduate institution in the old South to integrate, two years before the U.S. Supreme Court issued the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision.
1954 In response to the Brown decision, the Greensboro school board begins an effort to desegregate the city’s public schools.
1955 The Supreme Court orders that desegregation occur with “all deliberate speed.” The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill admits their first African American freshmen: Leroy Frasier, John Lewis Brandon, and Ralph Frasier. The General Assembly adopts a resolution opposing racial integration in the state’s public schools. The legislature gives local school boards control over the desegregation of their schools.
1956 The General Assembly adopts the Pearsall Plan, which offers North Carolinians alternatives to attending integrated public schools.
1957 Arkansas National Guard are ordered to prevent the enrollment of nine Black students from enrolling at Little Rock Central High School. The students enroll anyway, with the protection of federal troops dispatched by President Dwight D. Eisenhower
1958 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visits North Carolina. He delivers speeches in Raleigh and Greensboro.
1960 Four Black students from A&T College of North Carolina stage a peaceful sit-in after they are refused service at a Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro. The mode of protest used by Ezell Blair, Franklin McCain, David Richmond, and Joseph McNeil quickly spreads across the South.
1961 Asheville City Schools approve transfers of first African-American students to White schools. Initially, there was no busing, so it would be difficult to integrate schools that were not within walking distance for Black families.
1963 “12 Negro Children” approved for transfer in Buncombe County Schools and eight additional applicants were disapproved. Martin Luther King announces to the world that he has a dream.
1965 Malcolm X is assassinated. Literacy tests, poll taxes, and other requirements that were used to restrict Black people from voting are made illegal.
1968 A federal court rules the state’s freedom-of-choice plan unconstitutional. Henry E. Frye becomes the first African American elected to the N.C. House of Representatives in the twentieth century. Howard Lee is elected mayor of Chapel Hill, making him the first Black mayor of a predominantly White southern city. Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated.
1969 Police and National Guard fire on civil rights demonstrators at N. C. A&T College in Greensboro. One student is killed, and five police officers are injured. The Asheville school board rules that all Black schools and that Black students be bussed to White Schools.
1970 Asheville City Schools are fully desegregated.
1971 After a federal court in Charlotte orders cross-town busing to achieve integration of the public schools, the Supreme Court upholds the decision in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education which authorized the use of busing to desegregate public schools.
A march to save North Carolina’s historically Black colleges and universities, which were threatened by the merger of all state-supported senior institutions into the University of North Carolina system, draws 3,000 students.
A White-owned grocery store is firebombed during racial violence in Wilmington. Nine Black men and a White woman, known as the Wilmington 10, are convicted of arson and other charges. They have their convictions overturned in 1980.
1977 The General Assembly repeals the state’s ban on interracial marriage.
2003 The Supreme Court, in a University of Michigan case, rules that universities may favor minorities in admissions.