From protests to milestones, 2015 proved to be dynamic

From protests to milestones, 2015 proved to be dynamic
December 31
00:00 2015

By Donna Rogers

The Chronicle

2015 began with a question for Winston-Salem: Is racism America’s Berlin Wall?

Chronicle Publisher Ernie Pitt asked that question at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Breakfast Forum. It appears that question is still relevant because of the racism in its various forms that has affected Winston-Salem and North Carolina.

However, other events also shaped 2015 for Winston-Salem.

Voting rights

The movie “Selma” debuted at the end of 2014, but the main event it captured – the 1965 voting rights march to from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama – was remembered in 2015 as thousands of people marched in the streets of Winston-Salem in July. The battle cry was “This is Our Selma!”

The Mass Moral March was spearheaded by the N.C. NAACP, which is suing the State of North Carolina over the 2013 law that restricts voting rights. The N.C. NAACP accuses North Carolina of targeting minority and poor people to suppress their voting rights.

The march was held on the first day of the hearing in the lawsuit. N.C. NAACP vs. McCrory lasted weeks. The judge has not issued a decision in the case.

The lawsuit was divided after the state of North Carolina this summer made a legal maneuver regarding voter IDs before the trial began. The new law provides a way for voters who say they could not get an approved ID to vote.

Civil rights 

The issue of police officers using deadly force against black people took the forefront in 2014 with the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, and it hasn’t died down because more cases have arisen. In Winston-Salem, the family of Travis Page and the African-American community wait to see the video showing Page’s arrest and the reports that give details on what happened when Page died in police custody in November. People have protested to get answers. Police Chief Barry Rountree asked for calm and patience in the case. Police say the 31-year-old was pepper sprayed when he resisted arrest and later died. Police say they responded to a shots-fired call and found Page at the scene. He fit the description of the suspect, they said.

Violence and prayer

Outrage and grief touched Winston-Salem after nine black church members were fatally shot by a white man in Charleston, S.C., after the man spent at least an hour with them at a Wednesday night prayer service. Several churches and organizations held vigils and programs to speak out against gun violence and gun laws they believe are too lenient. Several people in the area knew some of the victims or had ties to the families of the victims.

Violence touched Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) when on Nov. 1, just a few hours after Homecoming activities came to an end, news of a fatal shooting on campus traveled through social media. Another student was wounded at the scene. A prayer vigil and memorial service were held for student Anthony White Jr. Jarrett Jerome Moore from Charlotte was arrested. He had attended WSSU at some point, WSSU officials say.

Nonprofits tangle

In May The Salvation Army asked that a property it was buying be rezoned so that it could house its family homeless shelter. An uproar erupted in East Winston when opponents in essence cried out “Not in My Back Yard” and protested the move. Other nonprofits led the protest. Opponents said the move would bring the Cleveland Avenue area down because of the homeless families and could lead to more violence. The Salvation Army withdrew its petition to rezone the property in July.


City officials shocked the community when they announced in April that the venerable bus system in Winston-Salem will get its first extensive overhaul in four decades. The Winston-Salem Transit Authority sketched out new routes and presented them to the public over several weeks. Many people complained about the proposed routes, which cut off bus service to some streets that had had the service for decades. The Transit Authority tweeked the routes after input from government officials and the public. On Dec. 21 the Transit Authority presented the final plan to City Council, which approved it. The plan is scheduled to be fully operational in 2017.


In January N.C. Sen. Earline Parmon changed her career path while still a state senator. She is director of outreach to the newly elected congresswoman for the 12th District, Alma Adams. The Rev. Dr. Paul Lowe added state senator to his resume when Democratic officials elected him to replace Parmon. Lowe has filed to run for his first full Senate term.

North Carolina Republicans moved the primary elections from a date in May to March 15 to have more political clout in the 2016 presidential race. However, that means everything has been moved up two months, including registering to vote. The last day to register to vote in the primaries is Feb. 19.

The Republican presidential race touched Winston-Salem in the fall when black candidate Ben Carson visited the area. The Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity denounced Carson in September when he appeared in Winston-Salem at a church after he said a Muslim should not be president. The Ministers’ Conference spoke against rich businessman and GOP candidate Donald Trump over his racist comments against African-Americans and Latinos while fellow preachers outside of the area met with him and praised him.


Residents who live near Hanes/Lowrance Middle School on Indiana Avenue were angry in March when they found out the contamination that caused the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board to close the school could be affecting their properties. They wanted answers to the dozens of questions they have concerning the soil and air quality of their neighborhood. The City of Winston-Salem in May told residents that it will be expanding its scope into potential groundwater contamination in the area. It appears the testing continues.

Meanwhile, students have been moved to other schools in the area for the 2015-16 school year.

On the college level, Elwood L. Robinson was sworn in as the 13th chancellor of Winston-Salem State University in November.

The university is seeking support for a Connect NC bond referendum on the March 15 primary ballot that will provide $50 million for a new sciences building.

Legal eagle

North Carolina’s U.S. senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, tried to stop Loretta Lynch from being named U.S. attorney general, but she was confirmed anyway. Lynch, who was born in Greensboro and grew up in Durham, was sworn in in April. She officially became the 83rd Attorney General of the United States and the first African-American woman to hold the position.


Winston-Salem residents, especially on the east side, rejoiced when the Liberty Street Market opened in October 2014. It was a sad day, however, when the market closed in late summer of this year.

Jim Shaw, former chairman of the Liberty Community Development Corporation (Liberty CDC, which closed in January), told The Chronicle in September that when Ruben Gonzalez, the city’s now retired development project supervisor, approached him with the idea for the market, he thought it was going to be good for Liberty Street. Shaw originally believed Liberty CDC was going to run the market before Mercedes Miller won a bid for it. Shaw said he’d gotten so many calls from vendors at the time that he had to turn them away. He said he was unsure why it didn’t work, but Liberty Street is the worse off for it.

The Arts

The weeklong National Black Theatre Festival began in 1989. It’s held in Winston-Salem every two years. During the celebration this year, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at 713 South Marshall St. for a preview of the National Black Theatre Hall of Fame and Museum. Money must be raised to make it a reality. The Hall of Fame and Museum will feature exhibits on the careers of festival founder Larry Leon Hamlin and Mabel P. Robinson, who had a long and distinguished career as a dancer, actor, choreographer, playwright and director. A new group of honorees will be inducted into the hall of fame each year of the festival.

Robinson announced she is retiring today, Dec. 31, from the daily grind of artistic director for the North Carolina Black Repertory Company, which produces the festival.


The Winston-Salem Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) elected Isaac “Ike” Howard as president. The first election was scheduled in November 2014, but was postponed because the then-president S. Wayne Patterson was concerned that the election needed state officials to monitor it.

The second election was held in January, but it was contested over what was called irregularities.

Howard was elected in May after Patterson dropped out of the race for re-election.

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Donna Rogers

Donna Rogers

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