Duke faculty, students speak out about Moral Monday participation
Duke history professor William Chafe was arrested during one of the first Moral Mondays in Raleigh. Having grown up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, he said he’s learned that change comes from the bottom, up.
Much like the sweeping Woolworth’s sit-ins that began in Greensboro in 1960, Chafe said, Moral Monday is the modern-day civil rights movement against the N.C. General Assembly’s recent legislative actions.
Four individuals sat on a Moral Monday panel Tuesday at Smith Warehouse and shared how they got involved in the statewide movement with about 25 audience members.
They spoke out against the voter ID law that will require certain forms of identification at the polls, cut early voting by a week, and halt voter pre-registration and same-day voter registration. They stood up against the General Assembly’s opposition to expanding Medicaid and opposed restrictions to women’s abortion access and cuts to preschool funding.
“We are in danger of going back in history, unless we retrieve the history that we’re proud of,” Chafe said. “… It reminds me of the worst days of Jim Crow.”
On the panel were Chafe, co-chair of the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute; Duke sophomore Eliza Meredith; Susan Thorne, Duke associate professor of history; and the Rev. Curtis Gatewood with the N.C. NAACP.
Chafe said he chose to be arrested during the peaceful protests to “stand up and say no, this will not be allowed” to state legislators.
Meredith, a Duke history sophomore who grew up in Durham, has participated in many Moral Mondays and has written her own editorial about North Carolina’s state legislature.
“I was thinking of, like, the 1960s when people just got on the bus and did these things to make a difference,” Meredith said. “You don’t know what it actually will do but you do it because everything matters. I remember people were singing freedom songs.
“It was just so cool that I was part of this next struggle.”
Thorne, a Duke associate professor, grew up in North Carolina and said the NAACP made activism so easy, that she “couldn’t sit at home anymore.”
So she got arrested, after feeling comfortable that Duke would back her and other participating faculty members. She joined the line of women waiting to be booked in jail. A policeman walked up to their cell later that day and respectfully asked the group of women to sing their hymns quietly.
“I know I’m not supposed to say this,” Thorne said, “but it was one of the most positive experiences of my life, getting arrested. … This was just common morality, to not let people pick on the weak.”
The Rev. Gatewood with the N.C. NAACP is a Baptist minister who said that Moral Monday is one of “the most exhilarating and uplifting Christian experiences” he’s had.
He encouraged people to get involved in Moral Mondays and to help reorganize a youth chapter at Duke University. One of the NAACP’s main missions, he added, is to educate other North Carolinians about how these legislative changes will impact them.
“Are you going to be on the right side or on the wrong side of history?” he asked.