The Royal Ice Cream sit-in in Durham, NC

The Royal Seven | Photo courtesy of The Durham County Library

Durham has always been a significant leader in the Civil Rights movement and during the 1960s, that was no different. Not only was Durham known for its abundant Black culture but the city also played a large role in inspiring nonviolent protests across the nation.

On June 23, 1957, Reverend Douglas E. Moore and six other members of the Asbury Temple United Methodist Church challenged segregation — with ice cream. The Royal Seven (a nickname given to the group by newspapers) sat down at a booth at Royal Ice Cream Parlor and refused to leave. You see, until that day people of color were expected to go around back + order their ice cream to-go. The Royal Seven didn’t think that was right. 

The Royal Seven were arrested and fined $10 each for trespassing. And although they may have lost at the trial, this was a win for the Civil Rights movement. The sit-in — the first civil rights demonstration in Durham to result in arrests — inspired others to question segregation + fight for racial equality. Nearly three years later, it even inspired the historic Woolworth’s sit-in in Greensboro.

The Royal Ice Cream Parlor was finally integrated in March 1963, allowing people of color to sit and order in the restaurant. Then in 1964, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin illegal.

If you’re interested in learning more about Durham’s unique history, you can visit The Durham Civil Rights Heritage project — this online exhibit documents the history of the Civil Rights Movement in Durham through numerous contributors.

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