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Chapel Hill bus shelter art honors activists and events from the Civil Rights Movement

A bus stop in Chapel Hill displays a photo of civil rights activist Harold Foster on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023. On the display is a quote from Foster, reading, "We were troublemakers. We questioned authority and challenged it head on."

To commemorate Black History Month, the Chapel Hill Public Library recently highlighted three bus shelters in Chapel Hill with art that depicts important moments in the Civil Rights Movement that took place in Chapel Hill.

The shelters' art features photos of a group of civil rights activists on the first freedom ride as well as art from Franklin Street civil rights protests.

The Art + Transit program, a collaboration between Chapel Hill Transit and Community Arts & Culture, launched the initiative to add art to the shelters. 

Melissa Bartoletta, the marketing and communications coordinator for Community Arts & Culture, said the program brings new perspectives to the forefront and challenges people's ways of thinking through public artwork exhibitions. 

“We work together with Transit, a department of the Town of Chapel Hill, to bring more art to the daily commute,” she said. 

Molly Luby, the community history coordinator for the Chapel Hill Public Library, said the bus shelter designs were prompted by the Historic Civil Rights Commemorations Task Force, which sought to amplify Black experiences during the local Civil Rights Movement.  

“We wanted to do that in ways that honored people who are still living and do it in a way that was more accessible to young people as well,” she said.

One of the shelters located at the Rosemary Street and Columbia Street Parking Lot, which was installed last year, is inspired by the Journey of Reconciliation. 

On April 9, 1947, a group of eight white men and eight Black men embarked on an interstate bus trip through the Upper South. They stopped in Durham, Chapel Hill and other locations. 

The trip would later be known as the Journey of Reconciliation, or the first freedom ride.

Bayard Rustin and George Houser, two of the riders, organized the trip following the 1946 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Morgan v. Virginia that declared segregation in interstate travel unconstitutional. 

The Freedom Riders’ journey was cut short when they arrived in Chapel Hill, where they were met with mob violence. Four of the men, including Rustin, were arrested and sentenced to 30 days on a "chain gang", according to Luby. 

“Martin Luther King Jr. came to Chapel Hill in 1960 expressly because he had heard from Bayard Rustin about the Journey of Reconciliation and was inspired by that,” Luby said.

The bus shelter features a picture of nine of the Freedom Riders and a quote from Rustin that reads, “The only weapons we have are our bodies and we need to tuck them in places so wheels don’t turn.”

Another shelter, installed in 2019 and located in front of Blue’s on Franklin on Franklin Street, displays a quote by Karen Parker, the first Black woman to graduate from UNC. 

“On Saturday, the 14th, I decided to go to jail. It was not fun at all," it read. 

Parker’s words are in reference to civil rights protests that took place in December 1963, when many protesters were arrested. 

The shelter displays a photograph taken by former civil rights photographer Jim Wallace depicting a protest that occurred on Franklin Street. Wallace was also a photographer for The Daily Tar Heel during the early 1960s.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed in a few months after those protests.

The third bus shelter, also installed in 2019, is located in front of the Graduate Hotel on Franklin Street and depicts John Fykes, a civil rights protester, singing as police tear him away from a sit-in at the Merchants Association building. Wallace also took this photo. 

The shelter also features a quote from Harold Foster, a leader in the Chapel Hill Civil Rights Movement and a member of the Chapel Hill Nine. 

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“We were troublemakers. We questioned authority and challenged it head on," the quote read.

Joal Broun, a North Carolina district court judge and the former third vice president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, said the bus shelters are a reminder of how far the Town has come in ensuring opportunities for everyone in the community but also how much further it needs to go.

“The lives of people are improved by understanding how people at a certain period got from A to B,” she said.

@DTHCityState | 

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