I’ve lived in North Carolina my entire life, Matthews to be exact. It’s a pretty standard place to live: nice people, not much going on, and never in the news. So when Dr. Wills brought up the town of Monroe, North Carolina in Hance lecture one morning I was quite surprised. I’ve never known about the history of Monroe, and to be quite frank, I’m not sure I’ve ever cared, until now. Monroe is a quick 15 minute drive from my house. I don’t go there much and nothing about it has particularly interested me. However, when Dr. Wills discussed the story of Robert Williams and the Monroe NAACP, something immediately struck me. Here was an example of revolution, right in my own backyard. I’d never heard of Robert Williams before that day and I wish I had. After reading “Negroes with Guns” and listening to Dr. Wills, I was motivated to investigate the life of Robert Williams further.
Over Thanksgiving Break I had the idea to go to Monroe and try to learn more about who Robert Williams was and what his impact was for the advocacy of civil rights in my county. I texted Thomas Baker knowing that he was one of the only Humesters that lived near me and asked if he wanted to turn my idea into our Humanities collaborative project. He thankfully loved the idea and set our plan into motion.
We started at the Union County library, hoping to find some background information about Robert Williams. It took a lot of searching, but we were able to find a biography on Williams which gave us copious amounts of useful information. We learned about the street where Williams grew up, the school he first attended, and the church where his mother was an active member at. We then made it our goal to travel to these places and get a sense of Robert Williams upbringing and what made him into the courageous leader of the Monroe NAACP who stood up to the terror of the Ku Klux Klan. We were able to visit the site of Williams childhood home, and even the site of the pool where he courageously fought for the integration of. Standing in these locations opened my eyes to the history of the areas around me and the role revolution has played in shaping what these towns are. Revolution is deeply entrenched in the culture and life of Monroe, North Carolina. Although Robert Williams was successful in integrating the pool, the aftermath of the escalation of racial tensions still persists in Monroe today. The divide between whites and blacks that existed during Williams period of civil advocacy was created by the train tracks. The train tracks separated the whites from the African Americans, acting as a tangible source of segregation. Driving through Monroe, it was clear that the train tracks still divide the town. There was a stark contrast of just the appearance of Monroe as you pass the bridge over the tracks. On one side it is dilapidated, run-down, and seems like the town has not cared about the aesthetics of the town. On the other side, Monroe is modern, with whole foods and Targets servicing the corners, and nicer cars driving down the roads. The influence of the past is clear in Monroe and although revolution has changed things, there is a clear result of the years and years of intolerance that people like Robert Williams faced.