Last fall, Chapel Hill mayor Pam Hemminger created the Historic Civil Rights Commemorations Task Force after receiving community interest in honoring those who lived in the town during the 1960s.
Their goal, according to special projects coordinator Molly Luby, was straightforward.
“The charge to the group was to create a timeline that identifies people, places and events significant in the town’s the civil rights struggle,” said Luby, “so that they may be commemorated in historical context by the town.”
After months of research and interviews, the task force’s efforts culminated with a presentation of the resulting timeline to the Town Council last Wednesday. Their work clarified events of the decade originally reported in different ways, while also emphasizing particular events. The task force focused on creating a detailed history of the Chapel Hill Nine, a group of high school students who were arrested and charged for civil disobedience in 1960 after sitting in Colonial Drug Store. They even created a subcommittee to research the group.
“Throughout this process, we felt a sense of urgency,” Luby said. “Of the nine, only four members are still living. The task force members hope to honor these men and their compatriots for their actions within their lifetimes.”
Danita Mason-Hogans, one of the leaders of the task force, is the daughter of one of the Chapel Hill Nine, Dave Mason. She spoke at the Town Council meeting, emphasizing the importance of having groups like this researching the 1960s.
“The collection and preservation of history is a social justice issue,” said Mason-Hogans. “Who tells the history and from whose perspective that story is told is at least as important as the history itself because of the ability of knowing that history can inspire future generations.”
The task force made several recommendations to the council about the next step to take. They encouraged Chapel Hill to start community conversation sessions about similar local history and asked for permission to create a historical marker for the Chapel Hill Nine. The group also petitioned for the town to add the late Harold Foster, the organizer of the Chapel Hill Nine, to the Peace and Justice Plaza on Franklin Street.
Following the presentation, Hemminger said she was pleased with the results and thanked them for their research.
“We finally get to tell our whole story,” she said, “and that’s just a wonderful gift this task force has put together for the entire community.”
The council has not yet decided where the created timeline will be publicly displayed, but it’s expected to be decided soon.