Freedom Rallies Began in Williamston, 1963

On June 30, 1963, a month of protests known as “Freedom Rallies” began in Williamston.

The seat of Martin County on the Roanoke River was a “hotspot” of the civil rights movement, and Green Memorial Church, a Disciples of Christ church rooted in the Holiness tradition, was the epicenter.  Discontent had simmered in the area since the 1957 acquittal of white men charged with the murder of a local black man.

Protesters, keenly aware of civil rights movement sweeping across the South, made it their goal to desegregate schools and the public library. Local woman Sarah Small and Golden Frinks of Edenton, a friend of Martin Luther King, Jr., organized the efforts. As the protests continued, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference held biweekly nonviolence training sessions at the church.

Protests continued for 32 consecutive days and involved as many as 400 people, many of them children and teenagers who sang and prayed at the church before marching uptown, about a half-mile to the courthouse. State troopers and local deputies kept close watch over the nonviolent summer rallies.

Rallies were suspended temporarily after Governor Terry Sanford’s office organized interracial meetings, but resumed in the fall when 12 white ministers and seminarians from Boston joined the effort. The fall protests were a bit more violent with protesters throwing bottles and the police using electric cattle prods on at least one occasion, but they ended following President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November.

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