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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Conrad Odell Pearson, April 18, 1979. Interview H-0218. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Sit-in demonstrations at the Royal Ice Cream Company

Pearson discusses some of his other civil rights activities, outside of his legal work with school desegregation and the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs. In particular, he focuses here on sit-in demonstrations at the Royal Ice Cream Company in Durham. Pearson argues that these demonstrations occurred just prior to the sit-in movement in Greensboro, which garnered more media attention, but the event actually occurred in 1957, several years earlier.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Conrad Odell Pearson, April 18, 1979. Interview H-0218. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

WALTER WEARE:
Much of your legal career, then, has been directing integration of public education in the state. What about accommodations …
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
Hospitals.
WALTER WEARE:
That's been a part of your efforts as well.
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
Yes. Hospitals and… You know, when they had the sit-in demonstration, they said it started in Greensboro, but in reality it started in Durham at the Royal Ice Cream Company. A fellow named Doug Moe, who was a minister at Asbury United Methodist, organized the first one, and it was over here at the Royal Ice Cream Company on Roxboro Road.
WALTER WEARE:
Is this generally known?
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
Greensboro got the press, and it's always been referred to as the first one, but in reality Durham was the first place.
WALTER WEARE:
Moe was a black minister?
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
Yes.
WALTER WEARE:
At what church?
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
Asbury United Methodist. And he moved to Washington, and he was a member of the city council there. I think he lost out in the last election. He organized the first one, and we represented those people.
WALTER WEARE:
And it was at an ice cream store?
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
Yes, called the Royal Ice Cream Company. He had a partition in the store, which was located in a Negro neighborhood, whites on this side and Negroes on the other side. And they went in and sat on the white side, and refused to move. The policemen told them to leave and they wouldn't leave, so then they were arrested, and then later we got to set bonds on them. And we had to bring another case before we could get the law straightened out. Because the City of Durham had passed an ordinance that where you served both races, you had to have a partition to separate white from black. And we neglected to put that ordinance in the record, and the court cannot take judicial notice of a city ordinance. It can take judicial notice of a statute, but not of a municipal ordinance. So we had to bring another one, and that was Streeter v. the City of Durham, and it went to the United States Supreme Court. It ruled in our favor. And I don't know how many people we represented. Greensboro, Durham; it was breaking out all over the state.
WALTER WEARE:
How far ahead of the Greensboro sit-ins was this?
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
I think Greensboro came shortly after the Durham case. That's where they got the idea.
WALTER WEARE:
It was 1960. Then are you saying this is '59 or still in '60? Is it a matter of months?
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
You remember when the demonstrations started about sitting in in restaurants and so forth?
WALTER WEARE:
That was in 1960 in Greensboro.
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
Well, it was 1960 in Durham, but Durham would just have to have been a month or so ahead of Greensboro. But Greensboro got the credit, because theirs was well publicized.