Civil Rights in Chapel Hill, Photographs by Jim Wallace

Jim Wallace was one of several photographers on the ground during the civil rights struggle in Chapel Hill from 1961-1964, a movement led by local Black youth who attended the segregated Lincoln High School.  A student at UNC at Chapel Hill, Jim was a photojournalist for the student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, which he describes as—at the time--particularly invested in calling out the injustice of segregation policies that prevented the as yet small number of Black students at UNC from walking across Franklin St. and sitting down to eat.  Jim gained unprecedented access to the struggle.  As you can see in these images, he was able to shoot from within the garage of the jail, from the second story of the building that housed the jail, and from inside police barricades.  He credits this, on the one hand, to the Chief of the Police, William Blake, who was an avid reader of Gandhi and who Jim believed wanted an accurate picture of what was happening in Chapel Hill.  On the other hand, Jim was a link between the Black leaders who sought media coverage (except for the DTH, little was forthcoming) and the police, who knew Jim knew where the next sit-in would be and followed him there.  (See James Wallace, “Photojournalism and Its Role in Shaping and Preserving Local History,” Keynote for the MCJC Civil Rights in Chapel Hill Weekend, November 2012, and Hutchins Lecture, Center for the Study of the American South,

How did the Jackson Center obtain these images?  They were gifted to us by Jim in the process of developing his important book, Courage in the Moment:  The Civil Rights Struggle 1961-1964 (2012), which features a selection of his photographs with text by Paul Dickson, former UNC student body president.  The book itself has a story.  As Jim was preparing for retirement from his 25-year role as Director/Curator of Imaging and Photographic Services at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., he revealed to his friend Lonnie Bunch, Director of the new National Museum of African American History, that he had a trove of images from his days covering the freedom movement in Chapel Hill.  Mr. Bunch describes his encounter with Jim’s collection in the Foreword to Courage in the Moment

"I had seen many of Jim’s photographs so I thought I knew much of his portfolio.  I must admit that when he brought many of the images that comprise Courage in the Moment into my office, I was stunned.  As Jim discussed each photograph I became more excited not only by the extraordinary visual quality of the images but also by their content.  Before the meeting had ended I knew that many of these images needed to become part of the permanent collection of the museum.  Fortunately for me, Jim agreed."

Bunch also encouraged Jim to pursue book publication.  But Jim had a problem.  While he could identify many of the police officers and white students in the photographs, he couldn’t do the same for most of the Black organizers and local participants.  In 2010, he connected with the Jackson Center, which then held 2 open houses in the basement fellowship hall of St. Joseph C.M.E., at which civil rights leaders, and their families, children, and neighbors began to sift through the 100 or more photographs that covered several folding tables, putting names to faces.  And then, as Jim recounts, “a very interesting thing happened”: 

People--younger generations . . . who weren’t here or were too young to be part of the civil rights movement, were looking at my photographs on these card tables at St. Joseph’s and saying “I had always heard about this but I had never really seen it.”  And then they would turn to some of the older parishioners who were there—because many of the marches started at St. Joseph’s—and they would go up to them and they would say “What did you do during the struggle?”

Answers to this question are relayed in the oral testimony of activists who grew up in historically Black Northside neighborhoods available on this site, particularly in the Chapel Hill Civil Rights Oral History Collection. 

Jim’s photographs are important for many reasons, not the least of which is their power to spur critical conversation across generations.  With rare intimacy, they reflect a movement uniquely led by teenagers who drew on principles of non-violent organizing and alliance to persist in courageous, escalating protest.  They also reveal the intransigence of white supremacy in a town renowned as a liberal beacon within the South.

All photographs are included here with the direct permission of Jim Wallace. 



 March leaders at St. Joseph CME Church

March leaders address participants in front of St. Joseph CME Church, a renowned headquarters for action and santuary for leaders.

 “Eat at Joe's Black and White” Banner

As they march from St. Joseph CME church toward downtown Chapel Hill, local African American students, religious leaders, and UNC students rally behind a banner declaring “Eat at Joe’s Black & White.”

 A demonstrator is attacked at Watts Restaurant during a sit-in in Chapel Hill, NC.

 A slogan painted on the door of a truck in Carrboro, NC.

A slogan painted on the door of a truck in Carrboro, NC.

 A UNC representative of the Student Peace Union pickets the segregated College Cafe.

 A woman stares at protesters who block her car from exiting the university parking lot.

 Before each sit-in, demonstrators had to agree to practice nonviolent resistance by going limp to neither assist nor resist arrest.

Before each sit-in, demonstrators had to agree to practice nonviolent resistance by going limp to neither assist nor resist arrest.   Here, they lie on Franklin Street, awaiting transportation to jail.

 Boys stage a counter-protest directed at marchers at the segregated Colonial Drug

Boys stage a counter-protest directed at marchers at the segregated Colonial Drug.

 Chapel Hill Police Lt. Graham Creel (left) and John Nesbitt (right) stand between civil rights demonstrators and counter-protesters at Colonial Drug.

 Chapel Hill police officers David Caldwell, Coy Durham, Charles Allison, and Herman Stone round up demonstrators for arrest at the Chapel Hill/Carrboro Merchants Association sit-in.

 Civil Rights protesters march from St. Joseph C.M.E. to Franklin Street

A protest march makes its way from St. Joseph's CME Church to Franklin Street, passing policeman Coy Durham. To maintain calm, the Chapel Hill police often treated the marches as parades.

 Clementine (Fearrington) Self leads demonstrators

Clementine (Fearrington) Self leads demonstrators.   Marchers almost always carried the American flag, but not the North Carolina flag, during their protests.

 Crowd gathers to prepare for a march in front of St. Joseph C.M.E. Church at the corner of Rosemary and Roberson.

 Demonstrator arrested at Merchants Association sit-in

A demonstrator arrested at the Merchants Association sit-in is carried through the garage in the Chapel Hill jail building.

 Demonstrators arrested at Colonial Drug Sit-in

Demonstrators, including Walter Mitchell (center), are arrested during a night sit-in blocking the door to Colonial Drug.   Members of owner John Carswell’s family and a friend watch from the inside.

 Demonstrators congregate at St. Joseph CME Church before a march.

Demonstrators congregate at St. Joseph CME Church before a march.   Reinvigorated by the March on Washington, activist rallied across the country, including in Chapel Hill, where participants often number in the hundreds.

 Demonstrators march down Franklin Street in protest of public accommodations laws.

Several weeks after the Chapel Hill Board of Aldermen failed to pass a public accomodation ordinance, the Chapel Hill Freedom Movement retaliated with a series of sit-ins and marches. On February 8, 1964, demonstrations like this one on Franklin Street effectively disrupted the town.

 Marchers on Franklin Street protest at segregated Colonial Drug

Marchers on Franklin Street protest at segregated Colonial Drug.

 Marchers sing freedom songs to convey their message, elevate their spirits, and boost their collective courage.

 Marchers walk in freezing rain from Durham to Chapel Hill on January 12, 1964

Marchers walk in freezing rain from Durham to Chapel Hill on January 12, 1964, in support of a pending local public accommodations ordinance.

 On February 8, 1964, protesters block the drive to UNC’s Woolen Gym during a Wake Forest game.

On February 8, 1964, protesters block the drive to UNC’s Woolen Gym during a Wake Forest game. Arthur Beaumont, Chief of UNC campus police is on the left.

 Picket of Chi Omega sorority at Pines Restaurant

When Chi Omega sorority at the ATO fraternity held banquets at the segregated Pines Restaurant, they were picketed by their fellow students.

 Protester carried by Chapel Hill police officers

Protester carried by Chapel Hill police officers.

 Protesters march and sing in front of the post office on Franklin Street.