GREENSBORO, N.C. — The first day of February marks the start of Black History Month. It's a federally recognized, nationwide celebration to reflect on the significant roles African-Americans have played in US history.
Here in the Triad, 'February One' is also a very significant day.
It's the day, 61 years ago when four brave NC A&T freshmen took a bold and daring step to desegregate the whites-only Woolworth's lunch counter in downtown Greensboro. The move helped ignite nationwide 'Sit-In' protests that became a hallmark of the Civil Rights Movement.
In honor of this important date, a dozen of North Carolina's top law enforcement officers, who are all African Americans, toured the International Civil Rights Center & Museum also known as the 'Sit-In' Museum.
The law enforcement leaders came from the six largest cities, and six largest counties in the state including one in the Triad.
"The sheriffs from different counties are here, black female police chiefs, black female sheriffs, I mean it's powerful," said Sheriff Danny Rogers of Guilford. Rogers was elected the first African American sheriff in Guilford County history in 2018.
"We're making sure the community understands how impactful it is to see people of color and powerful positions doing the right things that are representing their communities," Rogers said.
It was a powerful sight to behold as the police chiefs and sheriffs, many of them firsts in their communities, gathered at the whites-only Woolworth's lunch counter.
The lunch counter has since been turned into a museum to reflect on the Civil Rights Era.
"It's moving and it's just another reminder of the fact that we've come a long way," said Chief Catrina Thompson, City of Winston-Salem.
"You would never see a person of color in law-enforcement leadership back then and we see this now. But also looking at the fact that we have a great opportunity to try to bridge gaps with communities of color in particular," said Chief Brian James, City of Greensboro Police. James who was appointed to the position in January 2020 is Greensboro's fourth black police chief since 1987.
The law enforcement leaders came from six of the state's largest cities and counties.
The police chiefs who attended included those from the cities of Charlotte, Durham, Fayetteville, Greensboro, Raleigh, and Winston-Salem. The county sheriffs present were from Mecklenburg, Wake, Guilford, Durham, Forsyth, and Cumberland counties. Also attending were Col. Glenn M. McNeill, the head of N.C. State Highway Patrol, and Sheriff Paula Dance of Pitt County, who is the first elected African American female county sheriff in North Carolina.
"To be a part of the change is long overdue but it's here and I'm grateful to be a part of that," said Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough of Forsyth County. Kimbrough is the first black person elected Sheriff of Forsyth County.
"It brings hope into our communities so they can understand that they too can do it if they put their hearts to it," Sheriff Rogers said.
The meeting was organized by Winston-Salem Police Chief Thompson.
"We have seen things in recent weeks that lets us know we still have a long way to go," Thompson said.
After touring the civil rights museum the group went to the local restaurant Luxe to continue their conversations.