Durham’s Civil Rights Heritage

Martin Luther King speaks in Durham
Oct. 12, 2013 @ 12:08 PM

During the civil rights era, the Rev, Martin Luther King Jr. made five public appearances in Durham. By the time he made his most dramatic appearance -- on Feb. 16, 1960, as the sit-in movement was sweeping across the Jim Crow South -- he was a recognized leader in the drive for desegregation.

King’s first visit to Durham came nearly four years earlier, when he was just emerging in the movement. It was Oct. 15, 1956, and the Durham Business and Professional Chain -- the local black chamber of commerce -- had invited the young pastor to speak during its annual "Trade Week." King, who was gaining notice for guiding the boycott of segregated city buses in Montgomery, Ala., spoke at Hillside High School. "If democracy is to live, segregation must die," he said, and predicted, "Doors will be open to you now that were never open in the past."

After winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, King again visited Durham to address a meeting of the Southern Political Science Association at the Jack Tar Hotel. Later that day, Nov. 13, he spoke at Duke University. The following week he returned to speak before 5,000 people at North Carolina College (now North Carolina Central University).