When we are primarily taught what happens on a global and national level it can be easy to overlook local history. All national movements have to begin somewhere though, and the North Carolina Folklore Society has put together a small exhibit to help place Greensboro’s own history into a larger context.
Race has always been one of the most relevant and talked about topics in our time. Consequently, it has become a popular topic in the art world. The Traditions of Protest in North Carolina exhibit focuses on the history leading up to; and during the Civil Rights Movement. It focuses on the past, but also links itself to the Black Lives Matter movement of today.
Greensboro has a reputation of being one of North Carolina’s most resilient cities. It has a long, rich history of protests and social activism. This exhibit brings attention to events that helped spark the American Civil Rights Movement when it was still gaining momentum. It is comprised of newspaper articles, historical facts and photos that have been documented and pieced together to help reveal what was happening in a time when America’s social climate was changing.
This exhibit focuses on the Greensboro sit-in of 1960, the Greensboro Massacre, the Loray Mill Strike of 1929, and the protests sparked by the murders in Robeson County in the 1980s. Reproductions of historical photos from these events, along with excerpts from the Greensboro News & Record, hang beside original prints by acclaimed documentary photographer Rob Amberg.
The events that occurred in Greensboro were hard to ignore, but Amberg’s photos in this series focus on the lesser known events in Robeson County. Numerous suspicious deaths involving minorities and police occurred in the 1980s. This caused outrage in Robeson as their cases went unsolved and justice remained unserved. This exhibit is the first time these photos have ever been on display for the public eye. They focus on the events that occurred after the death of Julian T. Pierce, who was killed shortly before he could be elected the first Superior Court Judge from the Lumbee Tribe.
Julian Pierce was a Lumbee civil rights activist who was running for the office of Robeson County District Attorney. Pierce was shot dead in his home just weeks before the election. Many came to believe that he had been assassinated which caused distress throughout the community. Amberg’s photos on the events that followed are definitely the highlight of the exhibit.
Today we have television and social media to help spread news of what is happening in the world, but back then news was spread mainly by word of mouth. Media outlets were often uncertain on how to cover what many people saw as a disruption. The similarities between what was happening then and what is happening today are not a coincidence. The fight for equal rights and social justice has been an ongoing struggle, despite the sacred and undeniable truth that all men are created equal.
The Tradition of Protest in North Carolina is hidden in the dark backroom of the lunchtime restaurant, PB and Java, in downtown Greensboro. A lot of people probably aren’t even aware that it is there, and it isn’t the most uplifting or joyful exhibit that I have ever been to. Overall it is pretty small and took me less than 15 minutes to go through. But if you have been keeping up with the Black Lives Matter movement, and enjoy indulging in history, art, or photojournalism then it might be worth checking out on a lunch break.
The struggle of race and civil rights is an enduring one, and I am sure in the next 50 years there will be more pictures to add beside the ones hanging in the exhibit now. This definitely won’t be the last exhibit to dissect the struggles of racism, and someone else is sure to be writing an article about it just like this one. What is important to learn from the exhibit is the errors from history it shows us. Not just the national history that we are taught in school, but relevant local history whose events are similar to the current events that are happening today.