Local News

Raleigh Men Live the Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement

Posted February 11, 1999

— Many of us are not old enough to remember the days of"Jim Crow" lawsthat allowed racial discrimination in the use of public facilities.

There are some, though, who will never forget those days before theCivil Rights Act of 1964changed everything. A few remember how the victory over segregation was won and how the lessons learned then can help uslive the legacytoday.

Pastor William Finlator and Dr. Slater Newman saw the injustice of racial segregation. Raymond Burnette and John Winters were subject to it.

The men are among the many who joined the Civil Rights movement in the early 60s to tear down barriers to racial equality that they saw every day on the streets of Raleigh.

"I remember seeing those "colored" signs not only in front of toilets, but in front of drinking fountains," Finlator says.

John Winters broke a few barriers himself, and will never take his freedom for granted, though others may.

"They take freedom of access as just having been there and has always been, but that isn't the truth," Winters says.

In 1961, Winters was the first African American elected to the Raleigh City Council. He was also among the first two elected to the State Senate.

Winters says progress came thanks in great part to North Carolina's Governor during the early 60s.

"Under Terry Sanford we had a Good Neighbor Council that brought people together in small groups," Winters says. "It was all over this state, especially in the east where there was the least amount of communication."

The Good Neighbor Council encouraged open and peaceful discussion between the races.

Pullen Memorial Baptistwas one of the few predominantly white churches known in the black community as a safe haven.

"Of course, a safe haven meant a place where they can have discussions about the movement without fear of retaliation by the ultra-conservatives," says Waters.

Finlator says he and his flock took up the civil rights cause within the sanctuary, as well as outside on the streets of the Capital City.

"I saw down there among those people who were leading the parade, members of this church," Finlator says. "I said, 'What a shame. The people of this church are down here on the march protesting, and the pastor is sitting back quiet in his study.'"

The men remember the tense atmosphere surrounding the protests but don't remember any actual violence.

"We had a good police chief when I was on the city council, in Chief Tom Davis," Winters remembers. "The students had the protection of the police in Raleigh rather than the opposition of the police in Raleigh."

Dr. Newman agrees. "I'm not sure what his sympathies were but they were for enforcing the law," Newman says.

"I could never figure out how you could do such great things with peace," Burnette says. "You know, loving somebody that was hating you, and you loving them back."

Winters and Burnette escortedDr. Martin Luther King Jr.around Raleigh during King's visits in the early 60s.

"The change continues in my opinion and it continues in the right direction," Newman says.

The legacy lives on in them and millions of others.

"The past is over now," Burnette says. "We are looking for a new future and I can see a brighter day."

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