High School Students and their Parents Mobilizing for Civil Rights
Durham, NC 27707
(site of former Hillside High School, now on campus at NCCU)
“What shall we teach our children about race and race relations?” This question from Wallace Nelson, a Cincinnati representative of the Congress for Racial Equality, silenced the Hillside High School Parent-Teacher Association meeting on January 14th, 1952.
Nelson’s answer was a boycott of segregated public schools to prove that non-violent direct action was a viable strategy in Durham’s efforts to promote learning and friendships between students of different races. The room of more than 100 parents and community leaders erupted in applause to this proposal. Hillside parents understood the value of education in promoting social mobility and were especially motivated to engage in this action by their desire for a better future for their children.
They all agreed that actions speak louder than words. Reverend Charles Jones, a Presbyterian minister from Chapel Hill, also commented that a child is not taught by “telling.”
Hillside High School, the site of the meeting, was more than a gathering space. The students at Hillside High represented hope for the future for the historically disenfranchised black community in Durham. Significantly, the school was one of the South’s highest-ranking Black schools before desegregation. The overwhelming support in favor of the proposed boycott pushed the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs to name a special committee with Reverend William Fuller as head, to review and study Nelson’s call to action.
Unfortunately, the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs declared the “present time unsuitable for the boycott” during their meeting on January 20th. This meeting was one of many that mobilized Durham’s Black community and sparked essential conversations about change and equality in education and all aspects of their lives. The success of the economic boycotts in Durham years later were possible because of the attempts like this one that began in the halls of Hillside High School.