Before the Greensboro Four, there was Durham’s Royal Seven.

North Carolina’s place in the civil rights movement is largely connected with the 1960s Greensboro Four sit-in. But three years prior, a group called “The Royal Seven” challenged segregation at Durham’s Royal Ice Cream Parlor on June 23, 1957.

From Durham County Library:

On June 23, 1957, Rev. Douglas Moore of Asbury Temple Methodist Church led six young, well-dressed African-American students into the segregated Royal Ice Cream Parlor. Participants included Mary Clyburn, Virginia Williams, Rev. Douglas E. Moore, Vivian Jones, Jesse Gray, Claude Glenn, and Melvin H. Willis.

The group entered the “colored” entrance at the back of the restaurant and proceeded to the white section, where they sat down and ordered ice cream. The staff refused to serve them, and when they were told to leave by the manager, they responded by ordering another round of ice cream. The protesters were arrested and fined $10 plus court fees. Asked later about the incident by a reporter, Moore said, “We just decided we wanted to cool off, to get some ice cream or milkshakes.”

Moore sought the help of Durham lawyer Floyd McKissick, a prominent civil rights activist. The case was upheld by the North Carolina Supreme Court, and the United States Supreme Court declined to hear it on the grounds that the protesters’ rights had not been violated, since laws against their actions were on the books.

It is documented that the Greensboro Woolworth’s protesters, who ignited lunch counter sit-ins throughout the South, knew about and were perhaps inspired by the Royal Ice Cream sit-in. By the time the 1960 sit-ins reached Durham, the views of the town’s black citizens had changed, with most being in favor of the protests.

This month, we celebrate the courageous actions of the Royal Ice Cream Seven, the hundreds of Black leaders and activists who boldly and courageously helped pave the way for a more fair and equal society.

“These were working people, regular folks who decided that they were willing to sacrifice some of the things that they had to deal with in order to put forth the commitment to civil rights,” said Eddie Davis, a historian and former Durham City Council member.

It is within our history that we look for examples of strength, learn from the acts of those before us who stood for change against all odds and continue to fight for a better future for generations to come.

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