A day of walk and remembrance in Center City - | WBTV Charlotte

A day of walk and remembrance in Center City

Dennis O' Neil is the head chef at Center City's Mert's Heart and Soul restaurant and flashes back to a different place and time.

A time when it wasn't about the big bucks an eating establishment could bring in, but rather who was allowed at the table, and the color of their skin.

" I kind of grew up in that era, " O'Neill said.

Demonstrators started at Johnson C. Smith University by retracing the very same steps to uptown Charlotte on the 50th anniversary that brought change to city.

The late Reginald Hawkins who with former Mayor Stan Brookshire together began the process of what became known as eat-ins, and broke barriers across Charlotte at places like Tryon Streets old Monger Motor Inn.

Reg Hawkins Abdulla Saleem Jr. holds on to the lessons his dad left behind.

He said, "Whenever there is inequity. Whenever there is injustice. There is always a need to do something."

That something first came three years earlier in 1960, when African American students stormed five and dime store lunch counters across the south.

Five decades later there is still a call to action.

Pamela Grundy is a local historian who has written extensively about local protests.

"Here we are coming in talking about freedom, but in a different way," she said walking along Trade street.

At the end of their journey, speeches on the old courthouse steps provided the symbolism, but back at places like Merts which is African American Owned Dennis O' Neil feels real substance is found through past suffering.

" I can tell you that today was a major difference. There wasn't too many opportunities for places such as this establishment to go to and eat," O' Neil said.

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