Royal Ice Cream Parlor

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Like the other small businesses, stores, and public locations of the South, The Royal Ice Cream Parlor in Durham had segregated seating. A divider separated the two sections of the parlor and signs designated separate entrances: white customers were to enter through the door on Roxboro and "colored" customers through the door on Dowd. Rev. Douglas Moore, of the Asbury Temple Methodist Church, organized along with six others - Mary Clyburn, Vivian Jones, Claude Glenn, Jesse Gray, and Melvin Willis - to orchestrate a sit-in at the ice cream parlor. At this point in time, the sit-in movement had not yet gained its later momentum and was largely unheard of. This sit-in would be before the famous Greensboro sit-in that ignited the sit-in movement across the South. As such, local African-American groups, such as the Black Ministerial Alliance and the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs, did not support the group's decision. Nonetheless, June 23, 1957 at about 6:45 pm, the seven demonstrators went to the parlor, entered through the white-only entrance, and spread out across the white-only side of the parlor. Repeatedly and one-by-one, Rev. Moore and the six others attempted to order ice cream. And, repeatedly, they were refused by the waitresses. After refusing to move to the "colored" section on the other side of the barrier, the manager called the police.

Each was originally fined $10. The group of seven and their lawyers then appealed to the Superior Court, whose all-white jury judged them guilty and then to the NC Supreme Court, who ruled against them on the basis that their rights had not been violated. After the lawyers' final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected, the protestors ended up paying around $433.25 in fines amongst the seven of them.

Occurring before sit-ins became a widespread trend of protest, the Royal Ice Cream event garnered little publicity. It was relatively muted by the community and isolated. This was also partly due to the backlash from the black community, who viewed it as amplifying the racial tensions already rife in the community. As stated in an Indy Week article, it states how Green, the author of Our Separate Ways: Women and the Black Freedom Movement in Durham, North Carolina, wrote that "Mary Clyburn, who hid her involvement in the sit-in for many years, remembered the 'ugly faces' of blacks looking 'madder than the white folks.'" In terms of the civil rights movement as a whole, the event as a sit-in came before its time.

While it didn't receive immense attention nor enact a sweep of activism in Durham, the sit-in still foreshadowed the widespread act of sit-ins across the South. It laid an important premise for what was to come. Picketers, mostly high schoolers and half of them women, continued to protest outside the ice cream parlor into the 60s.




References:

  1. Bouloubasis, Victoria. "Before Greensboro's Famous Lunch Counter Protest, Durham's Royal Ice Cream Sit-In Quietly Sparked a Movement." Indy Week. June 28, 2017. https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/before-greensboros-famous-lunch-counter-protest-durhams-royal-ice-cream-sit-in-quietly-sparked-a-movement/Content?oid=6874575.
  2. Daniels, Dennis. "Royal Ice Cream Sit-In ." NCpedia. April 8, 2016. https://www.ncpedia.org/royal-ice-cream-sit-in.
  3. Ruyter, Elena. "African Americans Sit-in against Segregation at Royal Ice Cream Parlor in Durham, N.C., 1957." Global Nonviolent Action Database. October 01, 2011. https://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/african-americans-sit-against-segregation-royal-ice-cream-parlor-durham-nc-1957.
  4. Taylor, Katy. "Royal Ice Cream Sit-in Historical Marker." The Clio. March 31, 2013. https://www.theclio.com/web/entry?id=22242.

Image Credits:

  1. [Royal Ice Cream, advertisement]. Carolina Times, August 16, 1958. http://newspapers.digitalnc.org/lccn/sn83045120/1958-08-16/ed-1/seq-6/
  2. North Carolina Collection, Durham County Library, Photo by Williams, [Members of Royal Ice Cream Parlor sit-in praying]
  3. [Children marching with posters outside Royal Ice Cream Parlor 1], in the Durham Herald Co. Newspaper Photograph Collection #P0105, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  4. [Children marching with posters outside Royal Ice Cream Parlor 2], in the Durham Herald Co. Newspaper Photograph Collection #P0105, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  5. [Women carrying sign past car 1], in the Durham Herald Co. Newspaper Photograph Collection #P0105, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  6. [Women carrying sign past car 2], in the Durham Herald Co. Newspaper Photograph Collection #P0105, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  7. [Protesters outside Royal Ice Cream Parlor], in the Durham Herald Co. Newspaper Photograph Collection #P0105, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  8. [Protesters with signs marching near Royal Ice Cream Parlor], in the Durham Herald Co. Newspaper Photograph Collection #P0105, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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