Durham’s Civil Rights Heritage

Carolina Theatre protests, early 1960s
Mar. 04, 2013 @ 06:15 PM

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, lrichard@dconc.gov . For more information about the Collection and its treasures, visit the web site at  http://www.durhamcountylibrary.org/ncc.php .

The Carolina Theatre, which opened in 1926 as the Durham Auditorium, was the only “white” theater in Durham that admitted African Americans. Even so, its facilities were segregated, with separate entrances, ticket booths, seating and lounges.

In January of 1961 students began picketing outside the Carolina and Center theaters. A dozen or so students who were most committed to the movement continued demonstrating at the two movie houses every night for almost a year. 

In March 1962 the Carolina Theatre management rejected a proposal from the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter to negotiate desegregation of the theater, then refused the city council's request to reconsider the decision. In response, protesters began "round-robin" demonstrations, in which demonstrators lined up at the box office and, one after another, asked for tickets, were refused, and went to the back of the line to start the process over.

Before and after each night of protest, students met to discuss strategy at attorney and civil rights activist Floyd McKissick’s law office or at St. Joseph AME Church. Before the protest, they agreed on what actions they would take and how to respond to a variety of possible circumstances.  Afterwards they discussed missteps and how to be more effective the next time. The Carolina Theatre was finally integrated in summer of 1963 along with many other facilities in Durham.