Battle Hymns of the Old South

Down but not out in Alamance County

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Before he rounded the corner into downtown Graham, North Carolina, the Reverend Gregory Drumwright hushed the hundreds of marchers who had gathered on a steamy July day. He lifted his microphone and offered a morsel of history, some sustenance for the final stretch of the year’s most anticipated civil rights demonstration.

Race relations had long been strained in Graham, a county seat of fifteen thousand six hundred and a former textile-manufacturing center. This summer the tensions had only heightened. The killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, seven weeks earlier, had brought activists into the streets, as it did in two thousand other U.S. cities and towns. Not only did officials try to disrupt the protests in Graham, with emergency orders and threats of arrest, but so did the neo-Confederates who frequent downtown. Over the months, they brandished Rebel flags and Gadsden (“Don’t Tread on Me”) flags, “Crack Lives Matter” posters, and the occasional white power hand gesture.

The Confederates had anointed themselves guardians of Graham’s Civil War memorial, a granite column that rises three stories tall in front of the Alamance County Courthouse, topped by the statue of a Southern soldier. It occupies a well-known lynching site. In 1870, white supremacists abducted a Black town commissioner named Wyatt Outlaw, then bound his hands as one of his children screamed, “Oh, Daddy, Daddy!” They forced him down the street and hanged him from an elm tree outside the courthouse. “Beware! you guilty parties—both white and black,” said the card they pinned to him.

One of Outlaw’s alleged murderers helped unveil the Confederate monument forty-four years later. “It is well for us . . . to recall the achievements of the great and good of our own race,” Jacob A. Long, who led chapters of two groups under the umbrella of the Ku Klux Klan, said during the dedication.

If you were looking for a city that embodies the fault lines running through twenty-first-century America, you could come no closer than Graham.

Standing at the edge of downtown, Drumwright evoked these events. “This route is historic,” he told the demonstrators. “They marched Wyatt Outlaw’s body down North Main Street to bring him to his lynching.” The minister grew up in Alamance County and now pastors The Citadel Church in nearby Greensboro. He is forty-one, with a cascade of locks and a winsome, commanding presence. He wore a black clerical stole and track pants. “When we turn this corner,” he said, “Wyatt Outlaw and his spirit is going to be marching in our spirit.”

The Confederate memorial came into view. North Main Street filled with a recording of Mahalia Jackson’s contralto voice: “Soon it will be done / trouble of the world.” As marchers came to a halt, hundreds of fists rose and pointed down the empty expanse.

“It was like the Spirit of God just fell out there,” said Janet Nesbitt, a fifty-seven-year-old Graham resident. She had waited for the march in her mobility scooter outside the Little Blessings consignment shop, a half-block from the monument.

Across from Nesbitt stood more than fifty Confederates. They lined a plaza, some perched on a low brick wall, flags hoisted. One, who sported a T-shirt that proclaimed, “Jesus is my savior / Trump is my president,” held a cigarette and a poster that said, “Y’all ain’t got nothing better to do. All my friends are at work!”

Some of the marchers broke rank to stare down the Confederates. They remained silent, arms aloft. Nesbitt, who is Black, joined them. She, too, held a handmade poster: “We breastfed y’all babies.” A Rebel cupped his crotch in response.

“Turn your back to them,” Drumwright pleaded. “We will not be distracted by interruption.” The pastor had no idea how many interruptions were yet to come in 2020: the arrests and court hearings; the government surveillance; the fracases at public meetings; the white power convoy; the pepper spray attack on voters heading to the polls. For now, the minister had a message for local officials. “You tried to shut us down,” he said. “You tried to call us a hate organization. But we come in love. We come in peace. But one thing we didn’t come in is silence.”

The Terry Johnson Show

If you were looking for a city that embodies the fault lines running through twenty-first-century America, you could come no closer than Graham, where in 2020 a homegrown racial justice movement percolated up through the most unforgiving terrain and then persisted through months of escalating government repression.

The tensions are not obvious from the streetscape, which on first blush looks idyllic. Downtown Graham welcomes visitors with a mural that says, “Love Always Wins.” There’s a movie theater, two craft brewery taprooms, and a stylish secondhand clothing store. Traditional small-town markers abound, like a soda shop across from the courthouse that sells banana splits and $5.99 cheese dog specials. No surprise that the Alamance County seat evokes comparisons to Mayberry, the fictional mid-twentieth-century North Carolina town.

A Confederate statue on a pedestal is the focal point of Graham, North Carolina’s town square in this postcard from the 1950s.
Graham Drug Co. / Downtown Graham, North Carolina, 1950 (UNC Libraries Commons)

But that comparison slices both ways. “It feels like the 1950s,” said Sylvester Allen Jr., a thirty-five-year-old Black and Native American actor-musician who grew up in the area and still lives in Graham. “It’s as if I was living in the 1950s, and I was frozen, and I came back. Everything else has changed but Alamance County.”

One difference: the region in the 1950s hummed with manufacturing jobs. Burlington, the larger city abutting Graham, called itself the “Hosiery Capital of the South.” That reputation faded in the late twentieth century as mills closed and companies sought cheaper labor, bolstered by bipartisan policies like the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The closures had a cratering effect, and not just on the economy. “Post-NAFTA, communities like Alamance County felt like they lost their political home,” said Gwen Frisbie-Fulton, a staffer at Down Home North Carolina, which organizes rural and small-town residents around issues like wages and health care. “A bit of a vacuum was created, where if you didn’t have either major political party coming in and learning from local folks, then these communities are left up for grabs as far as finding their political narrative. . . . If we don’t organize there, somebody else will, and that somebody else is a far-right component.”

In 2002, nearly a decade after NAFTA’s signing, Alamance voters elected a sheriff who remains a hero to the far right: Republican Terry S. Johnson, the county’s preeminent political figure. The veteran of a half-century in law enforcement, Johnson compares himself to the fictional Mayberry Sheriff Andy Taylor. But the latter, played by Andy Griffith, didn’t refer to his adversaries as “Antifa” or instruct his deputies, as federal prosecutors alleged, to “go out there and get me some of those taco eaters.”

Johnson took office as Alamance County was experiencing an influx of immigrants; the Latino population increased twelve-fold between 1990 and 2000. (Today the county is 13 percent Latino and 22 percent Black.) That shift helped focus Johnson’s mission: to rid his jurisdiction of undocumented immigrants. In 2007, he joined a federal program that deputizes local officers to enforce immigration laws and exercised those powers with relish.

According to a 2012 lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department, Johnson targeted Latino neighborhoods for vehicle checkpoints and told officers, “If you stop a Mexican, don’t write a citation, arrest him.” Before raiding a predominantly Latino mobile home park, he reportedly told his subordinates, “Hell comes to these places and the devil gonna come with him. And you folks gonna be the devil.”

Johnson once explained his views about immigrants in 2007 to a Raleigh News & Observer reporter. “Their values are a lot different,” he said. “In Mexico, there’s nothing wrong with having sex with a twelve-, thirteen-year old girl. . . . They do a lot of drinking down in Mexico.” (Johnson did not respond to a recent interview request.) A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying the sheriff’s office had done “abhorrent” things, but the Justice Department hadn’t met its burden of proof. To avoid an appeal, Johnson signed a settlement promising to work toward “bias-free policing.”

The sheriff showed little appetite for curbing his county’s growing Confederate presence. In 2015, after Dylann Roof slaughtered eight Black parishioners and their pastor in a South Carolina church, and the national dialogue about historic monuments ramped up, an estimated fifteen hundred people descended on Graham to defend the Confederate memorial. They clashed with anti-racists at a 2017 rally that featured a banner with the initials YWNRU (“You Will Not Replace Us”).

In this climate, it was hard for people of color to pierce the fear, even after Floyd’s killing, said Quencyln Ellison, an Alamance native and state employee who helped plan the July 11 march. “One of the things I heard so often,” she said, “once we started getting the word out about the big demonstration is—and I quote—‘You better leave them white folks alone.’”

Solidarity However

Still, news of Floyd’s murder served as a Rubicon, even for some of the most reticent. For Ellison, who is thirty-six and Black, it was the culmination of a chain of videotaped killings that she had mostly tried not to watch. “As a mother, they would set off this feeling in me,” she said. “I was sad and emotional for a while. And then I would be extremely angry and frustrated.” This time, though, she couldn’t look away. “And I’m sure that there was similar feelings that other people felt,” she said.

Demographic shifts made protest slightly less daunting. Alamance County had started attracting newcomers priced out of more cosmopolitan places like Durham. The presence of likeminded neighbors provided some cover for longtimers who in the past had feared speaking out.

In the crucible of 2020, new groups emerged, including the Alamance Alliance for Justice, which Ellison cofounded. They began talking among themselves and with existing organizations, training their collective focus on the Confederate statue, policing practices, and the treatment of immigrants. Unlike big cities, where the left splinters over subtle differences, activists here understood they didn’t have that luxury.

“There’s this belief that people have to have the right ideas before they can work together,” said Juan Miranda, an organizer with Siembra NC, which focuses on immigrant issues. “Or the exact same ideas. Or that people have to like each other. Or that people have to have a hundred percent trust. I believe that actual trust only happens when people show up and work together and see each other’s commitment to the cause.”

Graham police last spring stepped up enforcement of a 1978 ordinance requiring permits for assemblies of “two or more persons for the purpose of protesting.”

As the activist infrastructure came together, local governments pushed back. Graham police last spring stepped up enforcement of a 1978 ordinance requiring permits for assemblies of “two or more persons for the purpose of protesting.” Starting in May, Mayor Jerry Peterman declared a series of states of emergency, imposing curfews and, in one case, suspending protest permits. Graham police said in a statement that they had received “viable intelligence” that the city had been targeted by violent protesters. (Peterman declined an interview request under orders from the city’s attorneys, adding that to do so “really hurts because of our history of being open and allowing everyone to voice their opinions.”)

Meanwhile, Sheriff Johnson barred protests on the courthouse steps and by the Confederate monument, at times cordoning them off. In a June Facebook post, his office said there would be no permits granted in Graham “for the foreseeable future” and that groups demonstrating without permits would be “subject to arrest.”

Pairs and even individuals were stopped by law enforcement and told not to carry political signs. One man who held a Black Lives Matter poster at a solo sunrise vigil was chased from the monument by at least ten officers.

In July, the Alamance County branch of the NAACP and eight activists, including Drumwright, sued the city and county. They claimed the restrictions violated their constitutional rights to free speech and assembly and were not justified by any actual threat.

The plaintiffs scored an early victory when Graham City Council repealed the measure requiring permits even for mini-protests. Then the arrests began.

Statue Statute

Congressman John Lewis died July 17. Eight days later, Barrett Brown, president of the NAACP’s Alamance County branch, was walking downtown and noticed the American flag in front of the courthouse lowered to half-mast. In that moment, the Confederate statue towered over a flag memorializing a civil rights hero.

“I got a real bad sensation,” said Brown. He continued on to a plaza across from the courthouse, where activists were holding a rally. He listened to a prayer and took in the crowd. But he couldn’t stop thinking about the tableau across the street. “It just seemed disrespectful to the memory of John Lewis to have this monument there and not do anything,” he said.

Brown was not the type to break the law. Still, he grabbed a Black Lives Matter poster and crossed the street to stand beside the monument, where demonstrators had been banned. According to the NAACP leader, a deputy sheriff told him he was on the wrong side of a wooden barricade and that he’d be detained if he didn’t move. “Brother, you do whatever you need to do,” he recalled responding. “Because I’m not moving.”

In a county where, last summer, people were saying, “You better leave them white folks alone,” activists of different races and generations were building a superstructure larger than their individual organizations.

In the plaza, Burlington Mayor Ian Baltutis, a white ally, read a letter from civic leaders calling for the monument’s relocation. “All those who work against us,” the lanky thirty-five-year-old mayor said in conclusion, “will live forever in the dark shadow of white supremacy.” The crowd applauded and then turned to observe Brown being led away in handcuffs. “We see you,” they chanted. “We love you.” Three others followed Brown and got arrested, too, including a Democratic member of the county Board of Elections.

Days later, an attorney representing the Alamance NAACP and other plaintiffs stood before a federal judge and asked for a temporary restraining order that would open the courthouse and monument to demonstrators. “This is the very reason we have a First Amendment,”—to allow direct challenges to the status quo, said Elizabeth Haddix of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The Civil War memorial has long been a site of free expression, she argued, and her clients deserved the same access that Confederate defenders had earlier enjoyed. “The object of their protests is this symbol that glorifies the Confederacy, that glorifies the oppression, the brutal oppression, of Black people,” Haddix told the judge.

In nearby Durham and Chapel Hill, anti-racists had toppled smaller Confederate statues. Haddix acknowledged that officers had the right to protect the Graham monument. “If they saw a truck coming down North Main Street with a rope and a ladder,” with the intention of pulling down the structure, she said, “absolutely arrest that person. But that’s not what’s happening.”

Representing the city was Anthony Biller, a private attorney better known for challenging Covid-19 emergency measures. He argued that, while the Confederate monument was “metaphorical,” the threat of property damage or even violence was real. Biller predicted that activists would climb the statue, followed by counterprotesters, if it were not barricaded off. “This thing will quickly escalate,” he said. Besides, he insisted, the monument isn’t racist. “We would like to preserve our history rather than destroy it,” Biller said. “We don’t see it as a slap in the face of Black people.”

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles did not issue a temporary restraining order. On August 14, however, she did order the sheriff and other county officials to allow protests near the courthouse. The next day, activists were holding Black Lives Matters signs and confronting Confederates alongside the monument. County leaders found alternate ways to crack down.

Forfeited Rights

Summer continued in a burst of creativity. On one Saturday morning, Siembra NC and six other groups set up mock polling stations around the county, including downtown Graham, for a “People’s Referendum” on removing the monument and terminating the sheriff’s authority to enforce federal immigration law. With Judge Eagles’s order in effect, organizers took to the courthouse steps to announce that both symbolic measures had passed.

One evening, a light artist projected the word “RACIST” down the column of the Confederate monument and a Black power fist onto the facade of the courthouse. Scores of people watched and softly sang, “We’re ready for change.”

“It felt like momentum,” said Allen, the actor and musician. “Sometimes, when you’re doing this work, it feels fruitless, because you’re doing ten actions, and one tiny little bit of progress comes out of it. But with the whole suit, and the county and the city being forced to allow protest next to the monument, it felt like, ‘Yeah, we can do this.’ It was precious.”

Activists also tried to apply economic pressure by appealing to prospective employers. On August 17, the Alamance County Board of Commissioners held a public hearing on a proposed incentives package for a United Parcel Service package-handling facility. The first, and only, speaker was a white anti-racist named Meg Williams, who represented six groups. “[We] are all actually here to address our UPS representatives,” she said, and then turned to face two men sitting in the audience.

The chair of the all-white, all-Republican body, Amy Galey, interrupted her. “Your comments need to be directed toward the board,” she said.

“You don’t get to talk over me,” Williams responded. “It’s my five minutes.” Ignoring Galey’s continued pleas, she pivoted back to the UPS officials. “We’re asking you to include in your incentive package a demand to remove the Confederate monument,” she said.

“Ms. Williams, I’m asking you to return to your seat, please,” Galey said. “You’re not being courteous in your language and presentation.”

“My language is plenty courteous,” Williams said. “We are here to address UPS because, as a company who is committed to racial equity—”

By then, Sheriff Johnson had stood up. “Sheriff, would you please take steps?” Galey asked. “Ms. Williams is disrupting a public meeting.”

“I have four-and-a-half minutes left,” Williams said.

“You forfeited your right,” the sheriff responded. At his direction, a deputy grabbed her with both hands and dragged her away.

The Crucible

As the 2020 national elections neared, the tensions that suffused all of America felt magnified in Alamance County. The Confederate cause, the “reopen” movement, and the Trump campaign seemed to converge.

In September, Young Republicans held a Trump rally at Ace Speedway, a racetrack that had earlier defied the state’s Covid-19 restrictions and opened to a packed, unmasked crowd. (Sheriff Johnson had given his blessing, saying, “I will not enforce an unconstitutional law.”) The GOP hosts coordinated with a neo-Confederate who was planning a pro-Trump convoy afterward, but they insisted the two events were separate.

The convoy, which included vehicles promoting local politicians, threaded through the county in a cacophony of honking horns and shouts of “White power!” and “Fuck Black lives!” In Graham, a man stood on the bed of a moving pickup truck, waving a Second Amendment flag and shouting at an anti-racist, “Four more years, you redheaded bitch.” Eight miles away, in the college town of Elon, a professor stood on the sidewalk holding a Black Lives Matter sign. “No, they fucking don’t, bitch,” a driver called out. “Go back to your home, cunt.”

Anti-racists were gearing up for the elections, too. Three progressive Democrats were trying to break the GOP lock on the Board of Commissioners. And Ricky Hurtado, the son of Salvadoran immigrants, was campaigning to oust a Republican state legislator who represented Graham. He had secured endorsements from Elizabeth Warren and Barack Obama.

Donald Trump carried Alamance County with 54 percent of the vote.

Reverend Drumwright, who had organized the July demonstration, announced he would lead a march to an early voting site on October 31. It would include victims of racist violence, among them members of George Floyd’s family. Drumwright obtained a permit from the sheriff’s office to rally near the Confederate monument.

Five days before the event, the minister sent a plea to Graham Police Chief Kristy Cole. “I am strongly opposed to Graham or [the sheriff] deploying large numbers of police,” he wrote, “particularly police in riot gear brandishing batons, tear gas and other weapons at our demonstration on Oct. 31. That show of force has routinely and repeatedly resulted in harm to protesters and chilling of their First Amendment rights.”

His words proved prophetic.

Excessive Forces

“Does anybody have guns?” Drumwright asked the hundreds of adults and children gathered at a Black church outside downtown.

“No!” came the response.

“Anybody bring knives?”

“No!”

“Anybody have Molotov cocktails?”

North Carolina’s last day of early voting was also the last chance to register to vote. The October 31 march was an opportunity for new voters to cast their first ballots in a historic election.

“You mean to tell me you come in peace?” the minister asked.

“Yes!”

Then they stepped onto North Main Street, led by a police escort, en route to a polling site three-quarters of a mile away. They would pause at the Confederate memorial for eight minutes and forty-six seconds of silence in Floyd’s memory, followed by a short rally.

As they approached the monument, Drumwright urged the marchers to recall not just Wyatt Outlaw’s lynching but also the violence against civil rights protesters in the 1960s. Today, he said, “there will be no bombs. There will be no hellhounds released on us. Folks like John Lewis didn’t have that convenience. Folks like Martin didn’t have that convenience.”

The pepper spray attack that followed came in two waves. The first hit after the silent vigil. As marchers who had sat or kneeled on the asphalt were rising, Graham police ordered them off the street. “People were confused and started to move towards the sidewalks,” said Gwen Frisbie-Fulton, the Down Home North Carolina staffer. By the time her own family reached the sidewalk, she said, she could feel the chemical irritant.

So could Quenclyn Ellison, president of the Alamance Alliance for Justice, who attended with three generations of relatives, including her mother. When the spray hit, she said, her eleven-year-old son vomited. So did her sister and two nephews, age nine and four. Ellison’s eyes and skin burned, but “as an organizer, I couldn’t leave,” she said. “My son was crying, begging me, ‘Mommy, please don’t stay.’”

Other families fled. One caught Frisbie-Fulton’s eye: an adult carrying a little girl who was sobbing and coughing. She was dressed as a princess, or maybe a fairy, for Halloween.

Graham Police, in a statement, said they deployed pepper spray because vehicles had backed up, “causing a traffic and safety hazard,” and the crowd had not dispersed.

Still, organizers kept assembling a small stage near the courthouse. “It’s going to be all right,” Drumwright said, kicking off the permitted rally. With the street reopened to traffic, he correctly predicted, Confederates would drive around and try to disrupt the event. “But people, we are here,” he said. “And we are going to occupy this courthouse. And we are going to convene our rally peacefully.”

Which they did, emphasizing the importance of elections. “Here in Alamance County, we need to vote,” said Ian Baltutis, the Burlington mayor. “So many of our councils, mine included, so many of our commissions, do not reflect the beautiful color that you reflect.” He swept his index figure in an arc, pointing at a cheering, racially diverse crowd. “And it is that beautiful color, the beautiful people of our community, who love our community, who shape our community, who change our community and rend it from itself to what it needs to be.”

As the rally neared its end and marchers prepared to continue on to the polls, deputy sheriffs rushed the stage. They tried to dismantle the sound system’s gas-powered generator, which they later said was prohibited and dangerous. As some of the demonstrators moved toward the generator, the officers unleashed another cloud of pepper spray.

Sylvester Allen Jr., the actor-musician, was on the stage. He saw the officers grabbing the sound system and went to scold them. Allen was pointing a finger, he said, but “I wasn’t touching anybody.” Still, he said, he got sprayed in the face. For a while, he said, he couldn’t open his eyes.

Janet Nesbitt, who three months earlier had confronted the Confederates, was sitting near the generator. When she saw the spray canister, she tried to say, “Don’t.” Before she could get the word out, she said, the pepper hit the inside of her mouth. Nesbitt convulsed violently and fell out of her mobility scooter, an incident captured by bystanders on video.

Baltutis saw Nesbitt’s body jerking. “We need medical help right here, right now!” the Burlington mayor recalls shouting. Two Graham police officers stood nearby, he said, and didn’t respond. (Chief Cole declined an interview request, citing pending litigation.)

As the noxious mist spread, some marchers recognized Baltutis as a sympathetic authority figure and asked him what to do. He crossed the street to confer with Graham police.

“We know who you are,” said one of the officers in an encounter captured on video. He directed Baltutis up North Main Street, which the mayor said was still clouded with irritants. Another officer lifted a pepper spray canister. “We’re gonna start using it,” he said. “You gotta go back to Burlington. Go. Start walking.”

“I Fear No Man”

The march never made it to the voting site. By day’s end, twenty-three people had been arrested, including Drumwright, who was charged with misdemeanor failure to disperse.

The following Monday, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, ACLU of North Carolina, and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed two federal lawsuits against the Graham Police Department and Alamance County Sheriff’s Office. The suits alleged that, by interrupting a march to the polls, the agencies violated not only the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act but also the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which Congress passed to protect formerly enslaved voters. The lawsuits have since been consolidated and expanded. The plaintiffs now include Drumwright, Allen, Nesbitt, Ellison, and her children. “We were beaten but we’re not going to be broken,” Drumwright said the day after the October 31 protest. He announced another march, this time on Election Day.

About 650 people showed for the redo, considerably more than the original event. As they gathered, Nesbitt took the microphone. “I’m not a quitter,” she said. “The only one I fear is God. I fear no man.” Then they stepped off, with Nesbitt leading in her scooter. Drumwright followed, singing “We Shall Overcome,” his voice quivering.

Without a permit, they stuck to the sidewalks and the edge of the road. They yielded to cars. They didn’t chant. They walked through a residential neighborhood where children waved from porches and a trampoline. They paused at a polling station for people to vote.

“Let’s proceed to the place where the monument will eventually come down,” Drumwright said. Arriving at the court square at dusk, they passed through a group of Confederates, who lined the sidewalk and taunted them with calls like “Trump 2020” and “Run ’em over.” They held their discipline and didn’t engage.

The night grew dark. The rally went without incident, even as the Confederates tried to drown it out with an off-key “Star-Spangled Banner.” “The world is watching what beloved community looks like,” Drumwright said. “This will not be the next Selma. This will be progress, and this will be a place where love will win.”

Making the Devil’s Work Difficult

Donald Trump carried Alamance County with 54 percent of the vote. The three Democratic challengers in the county commissioners’ race all lost. Viewed through a purely electoral lens, said Frisbie-Fulton, “we got trounced.”

In the aftermath of Election Day, Sheriff Johnson bore down harder on dissent. One of his deputies arrested three activists who objected after a county commissioners’ meeting adjourned without a public comment period (another two activists were arrested later that night). And the sheriff piled two felonies onto Drumwright’s charges, alleging that a video showed him assaulting a deputy during the first march to the polls. Haddix, the attorney, called the charges retaliatory.

The sheriff also released a four-minute audio clip from a community meeting, which he claimed caught Drumwright advocating violence. The full audio reveals the pastor calling for a peaceful protest to defuse the anger that might otherwise lead to rioting.

The end of 2020 felt dark. So how do you measure a movement’s success?

There were some noteworthy victories, starting with Graham City Council’s repeal of the anti-protest ordinance. Ricky Hurtado, the immigrant’s son, beat the Republican incumbent to represent Graham and its environs in the state legislature. United Parcel Service released a statement calling for the relocation of the Confederate monument.

The most dramatic gain was unmeasurable but palpable: the beginning of a shift in the local power dynamic. In a county where, last summer, people were saying, “You better leave them white folks alone,” activists of different races and generations were building a superstructure larger than their individual organizations. They continued marching even as larger cities packed up for the winter holidays. “We have made the devil’s work in Alamance County difficult,” Drumwright said at the November community meeting.

Movements take time to yield concrete results. Frisbie-Fulton believes that means thinking a decade out. “It took twenty-five years to put places like Alamance County into the hands of the far right,” she said. “We believe that we can reverse that. And we think we can do it faster than it took to go that way. But we still think that it’s a 2030 analysis.”

For Allen, the earliest signal of change is how drivers of passing cars respond to protests. At first, he saw mostly hateful gestures. “And, of the folks who did throw up a Black Power sign,” the actor-musician said, “it was very timid.”

“You flash forward to what we see today, and you see a complete flip.” Marches are still greeted by backlash, but also by allies who honk without reticence. “That’s incredible for someone like me, who grew up in Alamance County, to have folks in support when they drive by,” he said. “Something like Alamance County that refuses to move out of the fifties—if you can change Alamance County, you can change any county.”

Barry Yeoman is a freelance journalist living in Durham, North Carolina. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, The Nation, and National Wildlife, among other publications.

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