Durham’s Civil Rights Heritage

“Freedom Highways” campaign focuses on Howard Johnson's
Aug. 10, 2013 @ 12:22 PM

After the Freedom Rides of 1961 led to integration of interstate buses and terminals, the Civil Rights Movement moved on to "Freedom Highways" in 1962. In Durham this campaign, which sought to end segregation at establishments serving the traveling public, focused on Howard Johnson's restaurant on Chapel Hill Boulevard.

On Sunday, August 12, 1962, more than 500 people attended a "Freedom Rally" at St. Joseph's AME Church. Durham attorney Floyd McKissick, a veteran of years of activism against Jim Crow, was master of ceremonies. He was joined by two of the movement's national leaders -- Roy Wilkins, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and James Farmer, national director of the Congress of Racial Equality.

From the church, the crowd caravanned to the Howard Johnson's parking lot, where they demonstrated with song and prayer against the restaurant's segregation policy. The group was a cross-section of Durham's African-American community, including attorneys, North Carolina Mutual employees, North Carolina College (now North Carolina Central University) leaders, clerks, factory workers, teachers, housewives and students, all of whom gathered in what one observer called "one of the greatest displays of racial unity" in the city.

Sunday afternoon protests at the restaurant went on for almost a year, until mass demonstrations in May 1963 led to integration of most eating establishments in Durham.