KINSTON, N.C. (WNCT) — November 20 marks 72 years since a historic moment in Kinston.
On this date in 1951, students walked out of Adkin High School, an all-Black school, in an effort to push for equal treatment other schools in the area were receiving.
John Dudley was one of the organizers of the walkout. He is now 90 but remembers this day just like it was yesterday. Decades later, he said this day changed his life as well as possibly the course for the city of Kinston.
It all started 72 years ago in a civics class.
“The topic was, what an ideal school has,” Dudley said. “We had excellent teachers, but the facility and the grounds were not up to par. So we knew that that was a problem.”
It was a problem because they weren’t up to par with other Lenoir County schools.
“We asked her who in our area had these things. And then she said the school on the hill, which was Granger High, was totally white,” Dudley said of the conversation they had with their teacher.
Instead of sitting back, Dudley and his classmates decided to do something about it.
“We decided that, let’s call the school board and find out when they meet. And we would put together a list of things that our school needed.”
One of the biggest needs was a new gym along with more class space and newer textbooks. The students presented their list to the school board but were told these things weren’t in the budget for the next 10 years.
“But we knew 10 years was not a good response. So then we decided to set the alarm for that Tuesday,” Dudley said.
The alarm you might wonder? An announcement over the intercom from Dudley.
“Carolyn Coefield has lost her red pocketbook,” Dudley said. “At that very moment, 720 students got out from the desk very quietly and walked out.”
“All of us just rose up,” said Eleanor Stewart, another student who took part in the walkout. “And we went straight out the front door. And we didn’t look right or left, we just kept walking.”
They walked to Queen Street and returned back to school a few days later. A few months later, change was happening.
“Eighteen months. All of the things that we asked for had been built within place. A state-of-the-art gymnasium,” Dudley said.
Now, decades later, Dudley said this legacy lives on.
“We instilled in that community that if you stick together, you got power,” Dudley said. “Power is in organization. And today, there’s a lot of pride in that city of Kinston, North Carolina. And I think that could be kind of tied into the walkout.”
Adkin High School closed in 1970 but alumni are working hard to preserve their history.
They’re working now on restoring the school building as well as sharing the story of the walkout that made such a difference for the students.