In 1963, life in Williamston was marked by racial tension and segregation, which led to marches and protests in the streets downtown.
For Black History Month, WNCT’s Amber Joseph spoke with people about what that time was like and how they fought for their rights.
“We couldn’t go to the restaurants,” said Verona Smith Stevens, who lives in the town. “When we went to the movie theater, we couldn’t sit on the lower level because they had signs up, ‘Whites only.”
“One of the best restaurants in town, they had a little hole, just big enough to get our sandwich, and we had to stand outside and order,” said Styron Bond, of Williamston.
Decades of segregation, racial injustices and brutal killings would reach a boiling point in the town of Williamston in 1963.
“Williamston used to have a community swimming pool, and we would walk downtown and watch the kids throw colorful beach balls and splashing water and just having all kinds of fun, but we were not allowed to go in,” Stevens said.
Verona Smith Stevens remembers it like it was yesterday.
“We would stand there with our little fingers clinched through the fence just watching with envy at the other kids playing,” she said. “We would come home, and I would tell my father ‘Oh I wish we could get in that pool.'”
Those feelings, building up over years, would soon spark a civil rights movement led by Edenton resident Golden Frinks.
“When Mr. Frinks came to Williamston and started the movement that motivated me to want to participate,” Stevens said. “I never forgot that swimming pool.”
Green Memorial Church was a key part in the 1963 Williamston Civil Rights Movement.
“That was one of the only places that we could all gather and meet because a lot of adults were afraid to offer us meeting places,” Stevens said. “But the minister there opened his door and said come in, and we did.”
A place full of teens and children getting ready to march and rally downtown.
“We went every night to church, and we would protest in front of city hall, sing songs,” said Stevens. “As we would march in twos together, sometimes people would throw rocks at us. They spat on us, they called us all kinds of names.”
“While I’m back there singing, a row of hecklers, they’re spitting on me around my neck and everybody else in that row. My collar was so wet I could rang it out from saliva,” Bond said.
Bond and Smith said the movemont, made up of mostly teens and young people, was non-violent but many times the sit-ins would take a turn for the worst.
“We ran into John Howard and Styron Bond and the four of us decided we would do something on our own,” Stevens said.
“That night we went into Griffin’s Quick Lunch in the white section,” Bond recalls.
“When they saw us the place became completely silent,” said Stevens.
“They picked up the chair from the back and held it over our heads,” Bond said.
“And, he says no, no, no, don’t bother them,” she said.
“The owner said don’t hit them that’s what they want you to do,” said Bond.
“And the police came, and asked us to leave, and we said no,” Stevens said.
Some would be arrested several times and then later released or would have to wait for their parents to bond them out.
“My daddy couldn’t get me out,” Bond said. “I had to stay another day, but them hours are long.”
The movement also boycotted downtown businesses in hopes of change.
“These leaflets were passed out for black people not to buy and encouraged us to go out of town, and that worked somewhat,” said Bond.
Smith said the boycott made a statement.
“Prior to the protest and boycotts there were places you couldn’t go into and when you start hurting people in their pockets, you really affect change,” said Stevens.
Many of these memories both Smith and Bond will carry with them forever.
Comparing that day and age to now, they say all of the hardships, marching and arrests were worth it.
“Yeah, I’m glad I did it,” said Bond.
They knew what they could lose from the protest, but also what they could gain.
“Mr. Frinks would tell us ‘I know you want conditions to be better for yourself.’ He would drill that into your head to the point that you were determined, that I’m willing to die for the cause. If anything happens to me it would have been worth it because I helped make things better,” Stevens said.