Our Roots Run Deep: Black History in Carrboro
Braxton Foushee has helped lay the foundation when it comes to equality here in Orange County -- it all began in 1960 when he sat down at Colonial Drug Store (then both a store and lunch counter) and requested to be served. Though Orange County has always been progressive for the South, this was a time when African Americans were not expected – or allowed – to dine in.
Foushee began serving his community and helped many local black people become registered voters.
Once elected as the first African American Alderman in Carrboro in a 6-1 victory, Foushee got right to work! His passion for his community helped save Carr Mill Mall when it threatened to close, and he played a vital role in getting Hank Anderson Park built. According to an interview in the Carrboro Citizen,
Foushee says his proudest moment was “bringing bus lines to Carrboro” at a time when many of the roads in black communities still didn’t have paved roads. Foushee worked to get repairs made to these roads, as well as having them paved.
Foushee’s community service includes being a lifelong member of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, serving on the OWASA Board of Directors from 1986-88, and a volunteer for the National Kidney Foundation for North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama for over 30 years. He has been instrumental in the redevelopment of the Rogers Road neighborhood by advocating to bring water and sewer services to that community. Foushee continues his community service even today and currently serves on
Carrboro’s Truth Plaque Task Force – a plaque that memorializes the town’s varied history, including its founder Julian Carr and civil rights efforts in the town. His wife Barbara continues the family’s legacy of public service, as a current member of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen.
This Black History Month the town of Carrboro would like to recognize Braxton Foushee for his courage, sacrifices, and his continued effort to make Carrboro a more equitable place for all.
What does it mean to be the first? Neil Armstrong, Rosa Parks, Charles Lindbergh, Barack Obama, and Amelia Earhart are names that spring to mind at the mention of the phrase “the first”...certainly few would associate it with a 12-year-old boy. But Stanley Vickers was one of the many “firsts” to make a lasting impact on the Civil Rights Movement, and at that young age of twelve. In 1959, Carrboro residents Lee and Lattice Vickers requested that their son Stanley attend the then all-white Carrboro Elementary School, rather than the more distant Northside Elementary School. The Chapel Hill-Carrboro
School Board voted to deny the Vickers request. Two years later, Judge Edwin Stanley ruled that the constitutional rights of Stanley Vickers had been violated solely because of his race. Vickers then began attending Chapel-Hill Carrboro High School, making him the first African-American student at the school.
The decision helped advance school integration in North Carolina, but it was far from easy for young Stanley. In an interview with The Daily Tar Heel several years ago, Vickers recalled the challenges he faced by being the first: “You have to find the strength within you. Someone can make the way for you, but you have to walk the path.”
Being the first takes courage, sacrifice, conviction, and commitment. This Black History Month, the Town of Carrboro would like to recognize Stanley Vickers for his perseverance and audacity on overcoming discrimination and being a trailblazer in the Civil Rights Movement.
Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten taught herself how to play guitar at the young age of eight, unaware that her unique picking style would be recognizable over a century later. Cotten was born in 1893 on Lloyd Street near the train tracks, in what is now Carrboro. Those train tracks helped inspire one of Cotton’s legendary songs called “Freight Train,” which she wrote at age 11.
Throughout Cotton’s life she never strayed too far from music, but it wasn’t until her golden years when she recorded her first album: “Negro Folksongs and Tunes.” The album was released in 1958 on the Folkways label, which the Smithsonian Institution later acquired. World renowned singer-songwriter Bob Dylan even covered some of Cotton’s most famous songs.
Shortly before her death, Cotton was awarded a Grammy for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk
Recording in 1985. Elizabeth “Libba” Cotton’s music continues to influence lives today. This Black History Month the town of Carrboro would like to acknowledge the achievements and life of Ms. Cotton.
Robert “Bob” Drakeford made history as Carrboro’s first and only African-American mayor,
elected in 1977. Long-time residents remember him as the young activist mayor who was elected as part of the progressive Carrboro Coalition in the 1970s. Current Carrboro Mayor
Lydia Lavelle was so intrigued by hearing about Drakeford’s tenure as mayor that she met him in Scotland County (where he now lives) in 2017 while he was interviewed for an oral history project. Mayor Lavelle said, “I so enjoyed hearing Mayor Drakeford talk about the Carrboro of the 70s - in particular his efforts to get the transit system extended to Carrboro, and his work in Washington, D.C. with other progressive southern African-American mayors during the Carter administration.”
Drakeford’s accomplishments are still impacting the town today. Mayor Pro-Tem Damon Seils told The Daily Tar Heel in 2017, “He had a pretty progressive reputation at a time before Carrboro had really taken on that reputation, and he was sort of our first bicycling mayor and made a lot of advances for cycling infrastructure in the town.” Drakeford also hired the first professional planner for the town, also an African-American, setting high standards that eventually helped make Carrboro accessible to pedestrians and cyclists.
This Black History Month, the Town of Carrboro would like to recognize Robert “Bob” Drakeford for his service to the community, for his courage and dedication, and for laying the foundation for an inclusive community.
The 1960s were a challenging and often disheartening time in our country, and the town of Carrboro was going through a particularly difficult time. Two large textile mills in Carrboro closed, leaving a lot of residents unemployed. While black children were able to attend Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools beginning in 1961, the desegregation faced significant resistance. Many local businesses remained segregated, and demonstrations and protests were happening throughout Orange County.
Hilliard Caldwell organized sit-ins during desegregation, and was even jailed for protesting in his belief that children from all backgrounds and races should be entitled to the same education as white children.
Caldwell was eventually hired as a liaison for integrating Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools and was credited with helping defuse a volatile situation. He continued his public service by serving four terms on the Town of Carrboro Board of Aldermen.
This Black History Month, the Town of Carrboro is proud to acknowledge Hilliard Caldwell, for his perseverance and commitment throughout the Civil Rights Movement.
Information from Chapelhillhistory.org and images of Modern America: Carrboro was used in this article.
In the late 1960s, Carrboro residents Alvin and Omelia Garner met while working at a local restaurant.
They immediately fell in love, and it wasn’t long after that they decided to marry. However, not everyone was supportive of the upcoming covenant: Alvin is white and Omelia is black, and marrying outside one’s own race was illegal at the time. It wasn’t until 1967 that the United States Supreme Court ruled that laws prohibiting interracial marriage were unconstitutional.
One year after the Supreme Court ruling, Alvin and Omelia chose to marry. In June of 1968, Alvin and Omelia Garner became the first interracial couple to receive a marriage license in Orange County. The two were wed at St. Joseph CME Church parsonage in Chapel Hill.
Though the ceremony was small and intimate, the couple walked out of the parish to find the streets lined with people. Some were likely there to protest, but many came to show their support and witness this historic moment. “We got in our car and started driving off, and nobody was saying anything as far as, you know, heckling or anything like that. People started blowing horns. We blow our horn back,” said Omelia Garner in a 2008 interview with NPR’s Scott Simon.
Forty years later, the Garner’s decided to renew their vows and have the wedding they always wanted.
The couple was joined by family and friends at the Faith Tabernacle Oasis of Love. “You don’t grow up realizing your parents are different colors. You just grow up knowing that they are your parents,” said Alvin Garner II in an interview with WUNC reporter Leoneda Inge.
True to their vows, the couple’s marriage lasted over 50 years. On January 3, 2020 Omelia Garner passed away in their home while holding Alvin’s hand.
This Black History Month the Town of Carrboro would like to recognize The Garners for their perseverance, and for showing the world that love does conquer all.