Colonial Drug Store served primarily black clientele due to its location on West Franklin Street, yet the lunch counter was segregated.
The Lincoln High students who held a sit-in in February 1960 at Colonial Drug chose it due to their connection to the place. They all knew Big John and would buy and read comic books and buy fountain drinks from him after school and after Sunday School. This business received a lot of their money, but they were denied the right to eat at the lunch counter due to the color of their skin. So, they fought for that right. Their story is detailed more under "Protests."
The Daily Tar Heel, 20 June 1963, Page 1, via Newspapers.com.
This image from the June 1963 edition of The Daily Tar Heel depicts protesters outside of Colonial Drug during the sit-ins that took place in an attempt to integrate the restaurant. One of the signs reads “2,4,6,8, who the hell wants to integrate?” and another reads, “sing along with John” who was the owner of Colonial Drug. It is evident that white backlash was a reality during this time.
The Daily Tar Heel, 27 June 1963, Page 1, via Newspapers.com.
This column from a June 1963 edition of The Daily Tar Heel details an arrest made during the protests against Colonial Drug. A picketer was arrested for allegedly attacking Big John's 13-year-old son.
The Daily Tar Heel, 27 June 1963, Page 10, via Newspapers.com.
This article and its accompanying photograph (taken by Jim Wallace) centers on demonstrators at Colonial Drug. A continuation of the column, the protests were promised to continue indefinitely without any action by the governor to end segregation. The Civil Rights Movement was alive at this time in Chapel Hill, and the activists always made sure to keep themselves at the center of attention so that the legislators and public could not ignore the injustices at hand.
Mildred "Mama Dip" Council
Photo by Chuck Liddy, News & Observer, 6 June 2014.
Everyone knows Mama Dip even if they have never met her - her name is synonymous with a hot, Southern, home-cooked meal. We all see her name on Rosemary Street as it sits on a pot and invites us in for dinner.
Growing up on a farm and learning to cook at a young age for her large family, Ms. Council started on the path to owning a beloved restaurant even when she did not realize it. She went to cosmetology school in Durham and started working at a salon on Franklin Street, but she quit soon after taking the job.
She worked at Bill's Barbecue, owned by her husband's family, for many years before opening her own restaurant on Rosemary Street. Dip's Country Kitchen opened in 1976. She tells her history in the interview above.
Ms. Kathy Atwater in her office at the Jackson Center after our interview.
Ms. Kathy Atwater spoke of her memories of the restaurants of the Midway in the 1960s and beyond in an October 2017 interview.
In our conversation with her, found at the link above, she discusses Bill's Barbecue and other restaurants she once loved to visit in the area.
She echoed the sentiment toward Bill's Barbecue that most people express - it was definitely a centerpiece of the community and one that is greatly missed.
Ulyses "Man" Cozart
Mr. Ulyses "Man" Cozart dons a cap from The Rathskeller on a cold, autumn morning.
We sat with Mr. Cozart in November 2017 for a conversation that we had at the Bread and Butter Cafe on Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill. This interview was not even supposed to happen, but it turned out to be probably the highlight of our time learning about Chapel Hill's food history. We tried to track down Pop Lyons, also a former waiter of The Rat, but were unsuccessful in our efforts even with the help of Ms. Kathy Atwater at the Jackson Center. Then, one Thursday afternoon in November, she wondered aloud about Mr. Cozart, whom I contacted that day and we scheduled a meeting for the following Tuesday. Within a week, we met twice and had a wonderful breakfast at Bojangles in Durham, when he shared his own delicious barbecue with me, a part of his life that gives him immense pride.
The Racial Divide
The town of Chapel Hill was not without its share of racism, discrimination, and prejudice during the Civil Rights Movement era.
“When Marie [Roberson, born in Carrboro in 1940] came back from Washington, D.C., the fear that all blacks knew deep down as a result of segregation began to penetrate her innocence. These were the ‘bitter hours’ when Marie discovered she was ‘black and poor and small,’ when a knowledge dawned on her about the viciousness of which white people were capable. It stole her carefree days, the days of feeling completely safe that are the birthright of every child...[She] developed an attitude of resistance rather than submission...[and was] bothered, in particular, by the deference older black people showed whites…[She] knew from close personal experience that these traditions, embodying the racial etiquette of the South, were not mere words. They represented the larger patterns of power and submission that characterized the labor relations, political participation, and social dynamics of the period. They both reflected the status quo and enforced the status quo, for to fail to participate in these cultural forms was to make oneself a target, whether one was black or white” (Chapman 108-110).
"Persistent Jim Crow laws offered a solution for whites who would not release the mythology of 'our Negroes.' If blacks could not be controlled completely, as they were in slavery, Jim Crow at least allowed whites to control their access to the material South and the rights of citizenship" (Ferris 248).
"Sometimes we’d have enough to get ice cream [at the Dairy Bar], but...we couldn’t ever sit down in there to eat it. Couldn’t sit down in Big John’s either, ‘cause he had a little eatery in there, little lunch counter. So we couldn’t sit down sit down in there and eat. We would always have to buy our stuff and leave…[and] I resented it. Yes. Yes. Because I’m sayin’, ‘I’m spending my money here. Why am I not allowed to sit down and enjoy what I purchase here?’" -Stella Farrar (Chapman 104)
Jim Crow enabled white business owners to discriminate based on race and maintain the hierarchy of power that existed before the abolition of slavery. Denying access to public spaces like restaurants requires people to choose to turn someone away solely based on their race and skin color. “A particular irony of the segregated lunch counters and restaurants was that the food in the midst of these violent confrontations was a product of the shared culinary heritage of black and white southerners” (Ferris 252).
The Daily Tar Heel, 3 Dec. 1969, Page 6, via Newspapers.com.
This December 1969 article from The Daily Tar Heel contains an interview with a UNC student, in which he speaks about his ideas about the “role of blacks” in the university. Years after the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act have become law, this question-and-answer piece asks what black people want. The student interviewed answers quite simply that "the tide should shift. Now, the white man should suffer some."
David Mason, in the above interview from 2008, details his involvement in the sit-ins at Colonial Drug Store in 1960 as a Lincoln High School student.
"When we made the decision to go down to Big John's, Colonial Drug Store, that defied everything that we had been taught." -David Mason
They went against everything their parents had instilled in them, as well as their teachers and preachers, "in a black community that emphasized education, civil rights activism, and personal excellence" (Ferris 254).
The above video is the path taken by David Mason and his friends, which he explains in his oral history, once they decide to engage in a sit-in protest at one of their favorite places in Chapel Hill: Colonial Drug Store. They began at Morehead Planetarium and stopped at what is now West End Wine Bar, but the path in the video then goes around the corner to what is now Greenbridge Condominiums, then to St. Joseph CME Church and the Jackson Center on Rosemary Street.
The restaurants in Chapel Hill were prime targets of protest, as a lot of them were segregated at the time. Churches in the area often served as locations for organizing or beginning marches.
“As it was elsewhere through the South, “The Movement” was rooted in the African American churches. The black churches were places where the organizers could meet. The strength of the movement came from local black churches, mainly St. Joseph’s CME and the First Baptist Church” (Dickson 16).
Leaders gather participants for a march in front of St. Joseph CME Church, photo by Jim Wallace (from Courage in the Moment)
Chapman describes the night of February 28, 1960, the Sunday when a group of young black men decided to hold their first sit-in at Colonial Drug. They “were walking back toward town from the Morehead Planetarium. William Cureton and Earl Geer were seniors at Chapel Hill's black Lincoln High School. Thomas Mason and James Brittian were ninth graders at Lincoln and best friends. Along with one or two others who were with them that night, these teenagers were long-time friends from the Pottersfield area, the heart of the black community in Chapel Hill. They were running buddies who gathered at The Rock Wall to socialize. But what set them apart from many of their peers was a rebellious attitude toward authority, particularly the authority of white supremacy. Now, as the young men walked next to the old stone walls built by slaves, under the cold bronze stare of Silent Sam, the statue honoring the University of North Carolina's Confederate war dead, they talked over their plan to assault one bastion of segregation.
“As the teenagers passed by the many small shops and restaurants that lined Franklin Street, they encountered Harold Foster, another Lincoln senior and neighborhood friend. The youths stopped and talked briefly among themselves, then continued on their way through the evening cold. Their numbers had increased by one.
“This night the young men were on their way to the Colonial Drugstore at the other end of town in the black community. John Carswell--Big John, as he was called--stayed open late at night to cater to the needs of his black customers. Nevertheless, black patrons who bought snacks or sandwiches could not sit down to enjoy their food. Like nearly all of the other white-owóned lunch counters and restaurants in Chapel Hill, the Colonial Drugstore was strictly segregated. Now, however, Carswell's Jim Crow policies were about to be challenged” (113-114).
The Daily Tar Heel, 19. Dec. 1963, Page 3, via Newspapers.com.
This article from The Daily Tar Heel covers the arrests made during a protest outside Clarence’s Bar and Grill in December 1963. Police officers tried to remain “neutral,” and the protesters went limp during the arrest process as a display of non-violent civil disobedience. The photo included was taken by Jim Wallace.
Jim Wallace "was privy to the meetings of leaders of the movement, who often met at Harry’s, a New York-style delicatessen on Franklin Street owned by Harry and Sybil Macklin. The business was one of the few integrated restaurants in town that welcomed the young demonstrators” (Ferris 261). Wallace and Jock Lauterer have many photographs of student protests and sit-ins at Chapel Hill restaurants, cafés, convenience stores, and ice cream shops available via Wilson Library's North Carolina Collection at UNC.
“Sit-ins and protests continued throughout 1963 and 1964 in Chapel Hill, including a march in front of the segregated Long Meadow Dairy Bar on Franklin Street’s West End. Jock Lauterer worked there as a ‘soda jerk’: ‘I was shamefully naive of the Dairy Bar’s segregationist policy--blacks were served at the ice cream counter but couldn’t sit down in the dining room.’ By the following autumn, the Dairy Bar had changed its policy: ‘I, a freshie at UNC, was out in the streets, protesting, too.’ Violence escalated during the December 1963 protests in Chapel Hill, as segregated business owners retaliated in anger” (Ferris 262).
Ms. Stella Farrar participated in the sit-ins and protests at Colonial Drug, where Big John and his wife “pulled out these cattle prods. And told us if we didn’t get out they were gonna do this to us, and they stuck it to our skin and shocked us, and stuff. ‘Bout thirty-five of us on the inside, and we went straight to the lunch counter, and then...we locked ourselves, arms and stuff, together. And we just sat there until the police came…[The cattle prod] hurt. It stung. But we didn’t move. We didn’t move. We sat there and we endured that pain, because it was determination, and, ‘My god, why should we be treated like this? We’re human beings too’” (Chapman 105).
“As the movement unfolded, Stella saw her friend Colleen Burnette burned by ammonia thrown in her face at Brady’s Restaurant, and she saw other demonstrators get urinated on by Mrs. Watts at the Watts Grill” (Chapman 105).
Participants engaged in the protests as peaceful demonstrations most of the time, yet they were almost always met with violence. They showcased a mighty strength of character in their ability to non-violently protest in the face of slurs, weapons, violent and angry people, chemicals, and even a disgusting act of disrespect.
When the young, black high school students walked from Morehead Planetarium toward Colonial Drug Store on February 28, 1960, they had not planned to sit at the counter that night. Instead, they ran into people along the way who helped them find the courage and strength to do what needed to be done, following in the footsteps of the college students in Greensboro.
Then, they grew to be primary influencers in the civil rights protests of Chapel Hill. They thought their struggle would help to spark a change in the South and in the world. The racism they faced in what outsiders considered a liberal bubble needed to be confronted. So, if they revealed the truth of their lives in this town and how they helped to change it, they might be able to see changes in the people and policies exerting immoral and unethical power over them.
The restaurants on and off the Midway were central to the actions of civil rights activists during the 1950s and 1960s, as they worked to end segregation in the state and fought for access to public spaces. However, in our time speaking with Northside neighbors and other people in the Chapel Hill community, we have learned that the civil rights protests are not the most important thing they remember about their favorite restaurants.
Rather, they remember the food and the times during which they gathered with friends after school to hang out at M&N Grill, eat dinner at Bill's Barbecue, and grab some ice cream at the Dairy Bar. Of course the segregation in Franklin Street businesses did affect them, but that is not what they want to remember nor what matters the most to them. We were both surprised by this notion every time we heard it, as we always wanted to focus on memories of the Civil Rights Movement. But, in the context of the violence of the struggle and everything that the activists endured during their time fighting for their rights to be treated like human beings, it is absolutely understandable to want to remember the good times in life rather than dwell on the horrible, racist, discriminatory actions. While they brought up the protests, they made sure to note that what they miss the most is eating a Gambler at The Rat and those wonderful French fries at Bill's. So, maybe all you want to think about sometimes is that great plate of barbecue you wish you could eat just once more.
We would like to thank all of our field partners for helping us to bring a piece of the story of the Midway together. There is so much more history to be told, but we are grateful to have been able to learn about the black business district and Chapel Hill's restaurants that have impacted so many lives in such amazing ways. Thank you to Mr. Ulyses Cozart, Ms. Kathy Atwater at the Marian Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History, and Ms. Susan Newrock at the Chapel Hill Historical Society for your important work for the community and being integral to our understanding of Chapel Hill's history.
Header photo: Chapel Hill Herald, 27 Sept. 1998, via Chapel Hill Historical Society. Featured in image, from left: Ulyses Cozart, Kenny Mann, Alvin Alston.
Chapman, John K. Second Generation: Black Youth and the Origins of the Civil Rights Movement in Chapel Hill, N.C., 1937-1963. M.A. Thesis. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1995.
Dickson, Paul, and Jim Wallace. Courage in the Moment: The Civil Rights Struggle, 1961-1964. Dover, 2012.
Ferris, Marcie Cohen. The Edible South: The Power of Food and the Making of an American Region. UNC Press, 2014.
--- Logan Wagner --- Olivia Weidner ---