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CoastLine: How Civil Rights Leaders Make Change; Being Black In America

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Civil rights and union leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., marching on Washington, D.C. in 1963

Protests over the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police now stretch around the globe.  They erupted after the release of a horrific video which shows an excruciating 8 minutes and 46 seconds of former-police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck.   Chauvin has been fired from his police job and charged with murder.  Floyd has been laid to rest, but the protests have not.  

Early protests around the country included violence, looting, fires.  In Wilmington, a May 30th protest near the 1898 memorial was peaceful and praised by local leaders.  The next day, there were reports of several armed protestors, people throwing rocks and bottles, and storefront windows broken in downtown Wilmington.  Local law enforcement released tear gas to disperse the crowd.  Since that first weekend, nightly protests have remained largely peaceful in Wilmington. 

But as the narratives around protestor violence vary from place to place, also emerging are reports of officers engaging in dialogue with protestors, listening to them, hugging them, and taking a knee in solidarity. 

Over the last week, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has created two new task forces, both to be piloted by women of color, both to address racial inequities in the state.  The first, led by Secretary Machelle Sanders of the Department of Administration, is charged with looking at broad areas of racial inequity in housing, economic opportunity and health outcomes.  The other task force, to be led by Justice Anita Earls and Attorney General Josh Stein, will examine criminal justice reform.  New Hanover County has announced the creation of a new Office of Diversity and Equity.

There are other developments in Wilmington, the Cape Fear region, North Carolina, and the country that we could examine that appear to be triggered by the murder of George Floyd on May 30th in Minneapolis.  Is that what’s driving these new initiatives?  What’s different now – if anything?   We explore those questions through the lens of history. 


Glen Harris, Associate Professor, Department of History, University of North Carolina Wilmington

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 4 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.