1963 Fayetteville Protests (May 1963)

Students from the Fayetteville State Teachers College (FSU) met and formed a Demonstration Committee, which led protests by planning and organizing marches at the FSU grounds. The demonstration committee's first planned event occurred on May 18, 1963, and had over 200 FSU students participating. The protests were peaceful, and no arrests were made during that first demonstration. This would gradually change as the summer progressed.

The demonstration committee at FSU did not plan and execute demonstrations alone. Pastors, physicians, attorneys, teachers, and other community members supported them by offering safe spaces to prepare, providing mentorship and guidance, and lending financial support to pay bail as protestors were arrested. Soldiers from Fort Bragg gradually participated in the protests. By

June 1963 they were estimated to have comprised a large percentage of the active demonstrators. Although a national civil rights leader did not exist in Fayetteville, the FSU students ignited the movement, which inspired a community to take action collectively.

The religious community played an essential role in the demonstrations of 1963 in Fayetteville. Although the mayor had established the Bi-racial Committee, protests were still consistently taking place, and protesters needed safe spaces to plan, organize, and receive mentoring support. Mt. Sinai Baptist Church across the street from FSU played an integral part and served as a meeting place in the early demonstrations. Haymount Presbyterian Church served as a base point for several demonstrations in July 1963. Additionally, the local religious institutions, Mount Sinai Baptist Church, First Baptist Church, Evans Metropolitan AME Zion Church, and Haymount Presbyterian Church, played critical roles in providing moral support and bail money for demonstrators. The church teachings and mentorship provided by religious leaders coincided with non-violent methods, which was a critical part of the student-initiated movement.

Up until July, Soldiers had not participated in protests significantly. Following John F. Kennedy's June 11 speech, it was apparent that if blacks could serve in the military, they could participate in public the same as any other person. Soldiers began to steadily increase in numbers, support, and participation in the protests in downtown Fayetteville. Although the number of soldiers that participated is debated, the importance of their presence and symbolic value could not be understated. The business owners and community now faced protestors who had served

and fought for their country in Vietnam and would need to choose whether to serve them at home. Soldiers carried signs that now carried military messages, such as "GIs and students unite for civil rights" and "Ft. Bragg is open – Why not Fayetteville?" 

Black and white image of African American protestors picketing in front of a movie theater.
Protestors, Courtesy of Fayetteville Observer



Fayetteville, City of. 1963. "Regular Meeting." May 27: 547-561.
Suttell, Brian William. 2007. Countdown to Downtown: The Civil Rights Protest Movement in Downtown Fayetteville, North Carolina. Thesis, Raleigh: The Graduate Faculty of North Carolina State University.
The Fayetteville Observer. 1963. "200 Take Part in March." May 24.
The Fayetteville Observer. 1963. "Calm Prevails in Racial Situation in Fayetteville." June 9: 4B.
The Fayetteville Observer. 1963. "Complete Text of Mayor's Racial Statement." June 12.
The Fayetteville Observer. 1963. "Negro Demonstrators Hit Several Stores, Theaters." May 22: 1B.
The Fayetteville Observer. 1963. "Says Mayor: Merchants Laud Picket Handling." May 21: 1B.
McRae, Juanita. "Bi-Racial Committee Reports." Edited by Robert Melvin. The Voice, November 1963: 2.
Shaw. "GIs Join Local Mix Demonstration." The Fayetteville Observer, July 10, 1963: 1A, 10A.
The Fayetteville Observer. "Mayor Offers His Office as Help in Racial Parley." June 12, 1963: 1A.