'It feels great': Civil rights pioneer's courage is recognized by Durham church

Anthony Wilson Image
Sunday, June 25, 2023
Civil rights pioneer's courage is recognized by Durham church
"It's something that I never thought would happen."

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Virginia Williams is proud of her role in the civil rights movement and happy to receive recognition from St. Joseph AME Church in Durham.

"It feels great," she said. "It's something that I never thought would happen. I never thought it would blow up like this, because it got off to a slow start."

But what she considers a slow start ignited a pushback against legal and institutional racism when she and six others took a seat in a segregated business at a time when that action could lead to serious reprisals.

At the age of 20, Williams knew.

"I was going to get a chance to do something that I had seen my father do. They didn't do the sit-ins, because at that time they were scared to get out there and do it. But I had seen him slip off to NAACP meetings so I was thinking maybe I'll get a chance to go to some of those meetings and do things he wasn't able to do, he and the other men in the community," she said.

That's why we saw the courage of Williams and the others who took a seat against injustice honored during Social Justice Sunday at her church.

"Sixty-six years ago here in Durham, the Royal Ice Cream Seven demonstrated civil disobedience in the midst of segregation, in the midst of social inequality in the Durham community that really changed the course of America and initiated the civil rights movement locally," said St. Joseph AME pastor, Rev. Jay Augustine. "Four years ago the first Social Justice Sunday we observed here at St. Joseph was on June 23rd, in honor of the June 23, 1957, civil rights sit-in."

Democratic representative Valerie Foushee of the 4th Congressional District joined Rev. Augustine and his congregation as they recognized the action taken by Williams.

"To honor Mrs. Williams and the Royal Ice Cream Seven is a reminder to all of us that we all play a role, in making sure that we not only protect but secure our freedom.," she said. "That we are responsible for the communities that we live in, and if we want change in our community then we have to be that change."