Black History Month: A fight for racial justice six decades apart

Published: Feb. 19, 2021 at 1:39 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The fight for racial equality is embedded in American history and continues in the present day.

Activists both past and present told WBTV that while more than 60 years separate the civil rights movement and present-day protests for racial justice, many demands remain the same.

“We want equality,” Dr. Jabreel Khazan said.

In 1961, Dr. Khazan, known to his North Carolina A&T classmates as Ezell Blair Jr., dared to lead a sit-in at the segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro.

“We wanted to sit at the lunch counter and eat a good meal without having to stand up or take the food outside the door,” Khazan said. “Without having to drink out of the colored fountain.”

Khazan, Franklin McCain, David Richmond, and Joseph McNeil wanted to be treated the same as their white counterparts. The group faced resistance but kept coming back to the lunch counter with more supporters. According to the North Carolina Museum of History, the peaceful protests spread across the south and the Woolworth’s in Greensboro started serving black people six months after the first sit-in.

“Now we’re integrated but we are treated differently,” Seeking Justice founder Kass Ottley said.

Ottley organized protests after the death of black men at the hands of Charlotte Mecklenburg police including the deaths of Jonathan Ferrell in 2013 and Keith Lamont Scott in 2016.

In addition to fighting for police accountability, she advocates for equal opportunity.

“It’s a different ask,” Ottley said. “When we talk about equality, we are talking about getting people in underserved communities what they need like sidewalks, businesses, developments, and after school programs where the kids can go.”

Both Ottley and Khazan also acknowledged the different protest styles visible in the past and present day.

“There’s peaceful protests and there are people who come out to riot,” Ottley said. “Dr King even said the rioting is the voice of the unheard, so I get it and I understand it.”

Ottley and Khazan also acknowledged the importance of social media in terms of police accountability and the speed with which activists can communicate information.

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