Fifty-eight years after the beginning of the modern Civil Rights Movement in Chapel Hill, the Town Council accepted a proposal to commemorate the event and figures who played a key role in the first Chapel Hill sit-in.
On Feb. 28, 1960, nine black students from Lincoln High School staged a sit-in at Colonial Drug store on Franklin Street. They were inspired by the well-known sit-in by the “Greensboro Four” a month earlier.
Their peaceful protest inspired many more civil rights activists in Chapel Hill over the following years.
Danita Mason-Hogans, a daughter of one of the students and a member of the Town subcommittee that created the proposal, said these high-schoolers, known as the Chapel Hill Nine, have been at the margins of discussions about the Civil Rights Movement.
“We felt that the Chapel Hill Nine and specifically the Civil Rights Movement in Chapel Hill had been kind of overshadowed by a lot of the work that had been done by UNC students," Mason-Hogans said. "But it was sparked by those nine high school students.”
Consisting of scholars, relatives of the Chapel Hill Nine and members of relevant local organizations, the subcommittee's job was to establish the specifics of the protest and the appropriate way to memorialize it.
In 2017, Mayor Pam Hemminger founded the Council Task Force on Historic Civil Rights Commemorations to better understand the history of the local Civil Rights Movement. The appointed subcommittee was tasked to researching and commemorating the Chapel Hill Nine.
They interviewed surviving members of the Chapel Hill Nine, reviewed decades-old interviews with them, consulted contemporary news articles and resolved these sometimes divergent sources into a clear picture of what happened in the town nearly 60 years ago.
Mason-Hogans said the subcommittee's research contradicted the general perception of local civil rights activists, like the Chapel Hill Nine, whom she said were perceived as spontaneous and disorganized.