It Just Might Work: The City of Civil Rights


_D5C5045brianby Brian Clarey

I’ve been in Greensboro since 2000, and in that time the city has tried branding itself in at least a dozen different ways. There was Mayor Keith Holliday’s PGA — “Positive Greensboro Attitude!” — an attempt to hang our city’s hat on the annual golf tournament (that, technically, takes place in Sedgefield these days). We’ve been trying to make Tournament Town happen for more than a decade as well, a reference primarily to the semi-annual Men’s ACC Basketball Tournament and regular women’s tourney at the Greensboro Coliseum, but nobody’s buying it. We’ve tried to label ourselves as a college town, but that doesn’t quite capture it. We barely even qualify as the Gate City anymore, since train travel is on the wane.

We’ve even opened up our marketing to the public, soliciting slogans from the citizenry on more than one occasion since I’ve lived here, though I don’t recall ever hearing the results. Meanwhile, Winston-Salem appears to have successfully branded itself as the city of arts and innovation.

But what Greensboro does have is a genuine legacy in American civil rights that goes back a hundred years before the first sit-in of the Civil Rights Movement at Woolworth’s in 1960. Greensboro was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Freed slaves built and resided in Warnersville before the city tore down the community one tract at a time. Albion Tourgee, a 19th Century civil-rights pioneer, lived here during Reconstruction. And we’ve got a beautiful museum in our busiest district dedicated to human rights the world over.

Clearly, civil rights is our thing, and we need to embrace it. I think a weeklong festival would be in order honoring the legacy of our pioneers from back in the day and also those who continue the struggle in our city. I’m talking food, music, lectures and classes, interactive exhibits, theater, art installations and whatever else we can think of. And the whole thing should culminate with a massive citizens’ parade running from the campus of NC A&T University all the way to Woolworth’s on South Elm, recreating the journey set upon by the A&T Four on that fateful day.

Now, I’ve read that the original A&T Four took the bus downtown on Feb. 1, 1960, but that’s just not practical. It would be easier to get everyone to start calling Greensboro “Hopper Town” than to get people to take the bus.