EDEN — Malcolm Allen had a front row seat for one of history’s most acute reckonings with racial injustice –a stool at Greensboro’s Woolworth lunch counter in 1962.
And he has lived to see another civil rights flash point with the recent death of George Floyd at police hands.
On Saturday, the 75-year-old Allen, who has long headed Eden’s chapter of the NAACP, joined with about 65 other demonstrators and speakers at Grogan Park near Eden City Hall to protest against systemic racial inequality and police brutality against black Americans.
The Eden native said he was heartened to see young people joining in – a reminder of his activist days as a student at Greensboro’s A&T University.
“I think it was a very successful day because it showed the community that our youth are interested in what’s going on in our nation and that they are taking an active role in trying to make some significant changes here on the local level,’’ said Allen, who recalls the pride his parents Johnnie and Elizabeth Allen felt at finally being able to vote after the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
“So it’s very encouraging, because many of us are getting older and so many times we ask the question: ‘What’s going to happen when the old folks are gone?’ But the youth gave us a little snippet of the answer to that on Saturday. And I think we are in very good hands,’’ Allen said.
Organized by Emily Jarrell and Ashlyn Price of Eden, the gathering gave Eden’s Ervin Wilkerson a feeling of optimism.
“Being able to experience members of the community come together to show peace, love, and support for equality was nothing short of amazing,’’ said Wilkerson, who spent the afternoon snapping photos of the event.
“I was personally moved by the speakers and the passion in their participation,’’ he said. “Overall, the energy and feeling of the demonstration … the sense of teamwork and pride in making our city the best it can be … I think everyone shared in having that same experience.’’
Seeing whites join the Saturday rally was another good sign for positive change, noted Allen, who marched with whites during the 1960s for equal rights.
“I realized years ago ... from the first protest that I participated in … I was a student at A&T when we marched to Woolworth because blacks were not allowed to eat there,’’ Allen said. “We were joined by many whites from many churches, UNC-G and many other places, and so I knew that it took a combined effort to make a change. Working together, it is unlimited what we can accomplish.’’
Saturday’s afternoon demonstration, which included testimonials about racism and the urgency for getting out the vote in November, began at the park's pavilion. Later, protesters hiked over to the roadside along Stadium Drive to chant justice slogans and show their solidarity with posters.
And while such demonstrations are critical, “We have two weapons: our faith and our vote,’’ Allen said. “And so we need to exercise both of them if we are going to make a change. We can pray, but if we get up off our knees and we don’t do anything, the situation is going to remain in critical condition.’’
That means young people have to fill in their ballots in November and “take an interest in their county and city and their country,’’ Allen said. “Because when we older folks pass on, it will be lost to them.’’
In an era of instant gratification from technology, youth can feel impatient, Allen noted.
“But with freedom and justice and changes, sometimes it takes a period of time. So one of the greatest things we can do … that I have built my life on … is making changes one person at a time. Engage people, show them some love,’’ Allen said. “Because you never know what they’re experiencing. And when we can show love across the races, we can have a great impact.
“Because they can pass all the laws they want to, but unless there’s a change in the heart of this nation, were not going to be what we truly could be and realize everyone is a human being ... somebody’s child, father, mother, a human being.’’
Susie C. Spear is a staff writer for RockinghamNow. She can be reached at 743-333-4101 and on Twitter @SusieSpear_RCN.