The Civil Rights Movement in Salisbury
This walking/ driving tour presents the history of the local civil rights movement in Salisbury, North Carolina from 1954 to 1970.
On February 1, 1960, Four African-American students from A&T State University stepped into Woolworth’s to protest racial segregation at lunch counters in Greensboro, North Carolina. Fifteen days later, three African-American men entered into the F.W. Woolworth's on Main Street to stage their protest against racial discrimination at lunch counters in Salisbury.
“Negroes ate at the drug counters. A crack in the door. It will open wide as time goes on,” wrote Mayzonetta “Miss Mary” Lash wrote her diary on March 7, 1960. During the Jim Crow era, laws and unwritten rules kept Black-Americans and White-Americans segregated in public spaces. The first attempt to desegregate lunch counters in Salisbury occurred a few weeks by three African-American men at Woolworths on Main Street.
John Kirchin recalled the separation of the races in a 1999 interview with Salisbury Post. A ticket taker and concession seller at the Victory Theater in the 1930s, Kirchin remembered a time when Black patrons “went up a side staircase and our paths rarely crossed.” In the Jim Crow South, skin color determined the spaces a person could enter, where they could sit, and determined their access to first-class citizenship. At the Capitol Theatre, White movie-goers entered from the West Innes Street entrance and were seated on the main floor of the theater while Black movie-goers entered from Church Street and sat in the balcony area.The decision to challenge the long-standing rule in Salisbury movie theaters occurred during a period when protests swept across the nation as African-Americans fought racial segregation. Though only a marker remains to attest to its existence, the Capitol Theatre operated as the largest movie theater in Salisbury from 1924 until its closing in 1975. The location holds a significant place in Salisbury history as the site of the first arrests of the local civil rights movement.
Born on December 18, 1908, in Salisbury, North Carolina to Rev. Wiley Hezekiah Lash and Mayzonetta “Miss Mary” Grundy Lash, Wiley Immanuel Lash was a key figure during the Civil Rights Movement in Salisbury. He served his community as a civil rights leader, local businessman, and political activist who continually sought to better his community.
The protests at the Capitol Theatre on February 28, 1962, signified a transition in Salisbury civil rights movement. It marked the first civil rights arrests in Salisbury history and took place a year after the Look Magazine and the National Municipal League presented Salisbury with the “All-American City” Award. The All-American City Jury praised Salisbury for its progressive actions and good race relations. Yet, the arrest of seventeen Livingstone students suggested challenged those claims.
Founded as the Ellis Street School in 1904, the city renamed the school in 1928 to Frank B. John Elementary in honor of its former teacher and principal of the Salisbury High School. Frank Bell John taught at Ellis Street School and was the principal of the newly constructed Salisbury High School before his untimely death in 1927. Now used as the offices for the Rowan Salisbury Board of Education, the current building on 314 Ellis Street served as an elementary for White students from 1904 until its quiet integration in 1962.
In 1880, Salisbury became the third municipality in North Carolina to operate under a graded school system. Salisbury High School, renamed Boyden after the erection of its current building in 1926, became one of the earliest public high schools in North Carolina. Created for White students since its formation in 1880, Boyden High School integrated in 1964 under the new freedom of choice rule under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Mayzonetta “Miss Mary” Lash, the mother of Wiley I. Lash and local businesswoman, made a note in her diary on March 15, 1958. In the entry, she wrote, “Pres. Duncan called by to see me. He had great plans for Livingstone and I know he will bring them to fruition.”  The faith Mrs. Lash expressed in the diary entry predicted the immense changes Duncan brought to Livingstone and the critical leadership he provided the college during a turbulent time in American history.