Explore African American History in the Center of it All
Diversity is the key to Greensboro’s past; significant events occurred in the city which formed the content and context of African-American history. An informed tour of Greensboro’s African-American attractions can serve to reveal an important part of that history.
As early as 1830, Quaker anti-slave advocate Vestal Coffin was prominent in the movement of slaves from Greensboro. From 1830 till the end of the Civil War, Vestal and his cousin Levi helped to operate the Underground Railroad, which provided shelter and assistance to hundreds of escaped slaves who were fleeing to the North. Levi later relocated to Ohio, where he was known as “President of the Underground Railroad.” Greensboro’s Guilford College campus is the location of the “Hiding Place,” or “Underground Railway Depot.”
In the early 1900s, Charlotte Hawkins founded a preparatory school for African-Americans called the Palmer Memorial Institute. The school, located just east of Greensboro in Sedalia, operated until 1971, when public school integration and increasing educational opportunities for black students nationwide lessened the need for a private, boarding academy.
The school is now the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum at Historic Palmer Memorial Institute, the first state historic site to honor an African-American woman. The memorial links Dr. Brown and Palmer Memorial Institute to larger themes of educational and social history and to African-American history. The site features exhibits, tours of historic structures, an audio-visual presentation and many special events and programs throughout the year including an annual African American Heritage Day.
On Monday, February 1, 1960, Greensboro went down in history for the igniting the civil rights “sit-in” movement in the nation. On this day, four N.C. A&T State University students sat down at the F.W. Woolworth Company’s segregated lunch counter and asked for service, which was refused. This sit-in fueled the campaign for racial integration in the South and beyond. The store and lunch counter, located in the Old Greensborough downtown historic district, remained in operation until 1993, when Woolworth’s closed.
The non-profit organization Sit-In Movement, Inc. (SIM) was immediately formed with the purpose of purchasing, renovating and preserving the building and historic lunch counter. Plans called for the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, research laboratories, workshop space, bookstore and classrooms where college and high school students may receive academic credit. The pinnacle of the project and centerpiece of the museum would be the re-opening of the historic lunch counter. The grand re-opening was held for the 50th anniversary – Feb. 1, 2010. A three day celebration was held.
The International Civil Rights Center & Museum hosts several annual events throughout the year, including the International Civil Rights Center & Museum Annual Golf Tournament, held at Bryan Park in June. For a full schedule of International Civil Rights Center & Museum events, visit www.sitinmovement.org/events.
This important segment of African-American history is also depicted at the Greensboro Historical Museum’s sit-in exhibit, which has been duplicated at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. The Historical Museum also features authentic furniture designed and manufactured by Thomas Day, a noted African-American craftsman from the area.
University Galleries including The Mattye Reed African Heritage Museum, located at N.C. A&T State University is the home of one of the best collections of African culture between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, with over 3,500 arts and crafts items from over 30 African nations. Located right outside of University Galleries is the February One Monument, a statue depicting the four A&T freshman who ignited the sit-in movement on Feb. 1, 1960. Also located at A&T are the H.C. Taylor Art Gallery, a statue of NASA astronaut Ron McNair, an A&T graduate who lost his life in the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion and an archive housing a portion of Jessie Jackson’s papers.
Another art gallery, the African American Atelier (AAA), is located at the Greensboro Cultural Center. The Atelier is dedicated to enhancing the exposure of African-American artists within the community and multiple changing exhibits offer ongoing perspectives of African-American art. Holgate Library located on the Bennett College campus, exhibits the stylistic caricatures and genre of black life painted by noted California artist Varnette Honeywood. For a full list of exhibits at the AAA, visit africanamericanatelier.org.
Greensboro is also fortunate to have a great number of African-American businesses. The weekly newspaper “Carolina Peacemaker” has served the community for nearly 50 years. Other African-American owned businesses include Dudley Products, Inc., Hayes-Taylor YMCA and dozens of shopping centers. The Triad Minority Development Corporation publishes the Black Business Directory, which lists 100’s of minority-owned businesses from accountants and advertising/promotional products to word processing services and writers.
If you are searching for a destination that offers a rich African-American past, present and future, look no further. Greensboro’s got it all! Come and tour African-American monuments, admire ethnic artwork, celebrate your heritage at a festival or patronize any of the hundreds of minority-owned businesses. We have your whole day planned out for you with our African American History Itinerary!
For additional information, please contact the Greensboro Area Convention & Visitors Bureau at 2411 High Point Rd., Greensboro, NC 27403 or call 800-344-2282.