Durham’s Civil Rights Heritage
Wense Grabarek served as Durham’s mayor from 1963 to 1971, when the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing. More than any mayor before him, he directly addressed the problems presented by racial inequality.
A striking illustration of his commitment to improved race relations took place shortly after his election in 1963. On May 18, 1963, mass demonstrations erupted all over Durham. Howard Johnson’s, as it had often been in the past, was again a target, along with half a dozen other eating places, the courthouse and city hall. Over the next two days, 850 protesters were arrested as fights broke out downtown and police stood by with tear gas. Civil rights leaders called for 30 days of protests.
That was the situation welcoming Wense Grabarek into office. Elected the same day the demonstrations began, Grabarek asked to speak at an integration rally at St. Joseph’s AME Church scheduled for May 21, an unprecedented move. He told the crowd that, with their demonstrations, they had let the community know of their grievances. He warned of the dangers of racial tension and promised to take steps to respond to their complaints. Finally, he asked for their support and understanding. The crowd responded with a standing ovation and promised to stop the protests and give Grabarek time to act on the promises he had made.
See next week’s The Herald-Sun to learn the results of Mayor Grabarek’s promises.
This feature is brought to you by the Durham County Library’s North Carolina Collection, whose primary purpose is to preserve and make available the historical record of Durham County. If you have Durham-related files, photographs, or memorabilia and would like to donate them to the Collection, contact Lynn Richardson, (919) 560-0171, firstname.lastname@example.org . For more information about the Collection and its treasures, visit the web site at http://www.durhamcountylibrary.org/ncc.php .