On 17 June, people walked down North Roberson Street to get to the Juneteenth festival on the sports fields. Along the way, they passed the Hargraves Community Center building. In the 80 years since it opened, many people from Chapel Hill and Carrboro have gone in and out of its doors. Those who go in will see an extra sign in the front yard.
On 17 June morning, the Town of Chapel Hill put up a new sign at the Hargraves Community Center. The sign says that the land is now part of the growing N.C. Civil Rights Trail. The salmon-coloured sign tells people that the place was significant to the African-American people who lived in Chapel Hill and Carrboro and helped them organize local civil rights efforts over many years.
The North Carolina African American Heritage Commission is working on the Civil Rights Trail. This state-funded group works to protect and promote the history, arts, and culture of Black North Carolinians.
The trail has a website and objective markers to help people remember places “important to the Civil Rights Movement in North Carolina.” Sites can be places where protests or sit-ins happened, the birthplaces or homes of civil rights icons, places where people planned events, places where civil rights icons went, and more.
A Tweet on the Civil Rights trail of Chapel Hill:-
The Civil Rights Trail is a project of the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission, which is a state-funded group protecting and promoting the history, arts and culture of Black North Carolinians.https://t.co/VNQ889TEi9
— WCHL & Chapelboro (@WCHLChapelboro) June 19, 2023
In many ways, the Hargraves Community Center meets the requirements for an application for a marking. In the early 1940s, the building was first used to house the visiting B-1 Navy Band. It quickly became a place where Black residents and leaders got together.
The Chapel Hill NAACP was started there in 1947. After the Chapel Hill Nine’s sit-in at the Colonial Drugstore in 1960, protesters met there, and Martin Luther King Jr. spoke there that same year. Every day, it was a place for after-school programs, food distributions, and sports on its basketball courts and pool.
During last year’s Juneteenth party at the park building, people decided which of a few town sites should apply for a Civil Rights Trail marker. The Hargraves Community Center won by a large majority.
After the centre was chosen, Luby, the director of Hargraves, John French, and the director of Community, Arts, and Culture, Susan Brown, worked together to send an application to the state’s African American Heritage Commission.
From there, Associate Director Adrienne Nirdé said the sites are looked at by civil rights experts from all over North Carolina. Even though other community centres are already on the Civil Rights Trail, Nirdé said that the Hargraves Community Center stands out because it is vital to the area.
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“Not only was it for adults and for having [civil rights leaders] speak here, but it’s also a safe space for kids still standing and serving as an ongoing community resource,” she said. “It just happens to have this tie to such rich, significant history and I think that’s what’s cool about it.”
During the unveiling ceremony on Saturday, many Black leaders from Chapel Hill and Carrboro came together to enjoy the honour and tell stories about their lives at the centre.
U.S. Rep. Valerie Foushee, who is from Chapel Hill and serves Orange County, talked about how she got her first job as an office assistant for former director Fred Battle at the community centre where she grew up. She also spoke about how the centre helped her get to know her husband better and how her kids went there “every day” until they were teenagers.
Nate Davis took over as head of the centre after the Battle. He did this job for 47 years until he retired in 2018. During the event, he also talked about how the centre has helped children for many years and how people still tell him stories about how it has helped them.
Davis told everyone there to enjoy Hargraves Community Center and support and keep up its work to help the Black people of Chapel Hill and Carrboro.