Peace and Justice Plaza

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Chapel Hill Peace and Justice Plaza

"True peace is not merely the absence of some negative force, it is the presence of justice."—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  

Community members proposed the idea in 2006 to rename the Old Post Office Plaza in honor of Joe and Lucy Straley and Charlotte Adams, who were active in civil justice issues. They spent countless hours in front of the Old Post Office collecting signatures and holding demonstrations and vigils. The Council took the idea, and after receiving public input, decided to name the plaza Peace and Justice Plaza. The Council then called for the establishment of a tribute marker that would honor individuals such as the Straleys and Ms. Adams who had deep involvement in civil justice issues.

The plaza and its granite tribute marker were dedicated in September 2009. The following individuals currently are honored on the historic marker: Charlotte Adams, Hank Anderson, James Brittian, Yonni Chapman, Rebecca Clark, Joe Herzenberg, the Rev. Charles M. Jones, Dan Pollitt, Mildred Ringwalt, Hubert Robinson, Joe Straley, Lucy Straley, and Gloria Williams. Nominees for the marker must have demonstrated a lifelong commitment to furthering the causes of peace and justice in Chapel Hill, and they are individuals who are no longer living.

The Peace and Justice Plaza honors the energy and spirit of the thousands who have stood in the shadow of the Courthouse and exercised their rights to assembly and speech and have spoken out on issues as diverse as the Vietnam War, environmental justice, women’s rights, gay rights, the death penalty, and racial justice.

Beginning in the 1940s, members of this community made national news as they were recognized for early efforts to advance human relations. By the 1960s, much of the community, including civil rights activists, church leaders and young people, was involved in making powerful progress toward ending Jim Crow laws and ending the segregation of public schools and public facilities.

From 1960 to 1964, black Lincoln High School students led a powerful civil rights movement, including weekly marches that began at local black churches and ended at the old Post Office, now Peace and Justice Plaza. UNC students joined the civil rights movement in large numbers. They became increasingly vocal in their protests of local racial segregation, legislative restrictions on free speech (the Speaker Ban Law) and national events.

Imagine the scene on May 25, 1963, when some 300 black and white demonstrators marched down Franklin Street, stopping to sing before segregated establishments and calling for “equal treatment of ALL customers.” Later that same year, more demonstrations – and arrests – occurred. It was the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 that finally ended the mass demonstrations in Chapel Hill.

Students used marches, sit-ins, and strikes to support the 1969 UNC cafeteria workers strikes and to protest the Vietnam War. Charlotte Adams and other members of the local chapter of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom led a weekly peace vigil in front of the Franklin Street Post Office that began on Jan. 4, 1967. The weekly vigils continued every Wednesday until 1973.

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