Surviving members of Chapel Hill Nine return to town on anniversary of sit-in

March 2, 2019

A special celebration was held Thursday night as the town of Chapel Hill honored the Chapel Hill Nine.

A picture pays homage to the legacy of the Chapel Hill Nine, whose act of civil disobedience on Feb. 28, 1960 sparked a movement of sit-ins in Chapel Hill.

On Thursday, Clyde Douglas Perry sat in the same spot where he and his buddies staged a sit-in 59 years ago. Today, it is the West End Wine Bar. In 1960, it was the Colonial Drug Store.

“I was 17 when we did the sit in,” Perry said. “Truthfully, I was a little afraid. I didn’t tell my parents where we were going or nothing.”

Perry is one of four surviving members of the Chapel Hill Nine. Now all in their 70s, the men were standing shoulder to shoulder again Thursday. For Jim Merritt, it was the first time since the sit-in in 1960.

“Not good memories,” Merritt said about why he hadn’t returned sooner.

A placement of rocks on Franklin Street currently marks the spot where a Chapel Hill Nine historical marker will be placed. The rocks are symbolic of the rock wall where the teenage boys often met to plan their sit-in.

“We got the idea from the Greensboro Four,” Albert Williams said.

The Greensboro Four staged a sit-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter four weeks earlier, inspiring nine teenage boys from Lincoln High School.

“I’m just more humbled to know that I was used as an instrument to help bring about change,” Williams said.

The steps the Chapel Hill Nine took 59 years ago will always be remembered as part of the town’s civil rights legacy.

“I feel like I was able to be a part of a group of individuals that we felt like we saw an injustice and dared, despite the teachings of our parents, to do something about it,” David Mason Jr. said.

The permanent marker honoring the Chapel Hill Nine will be put up on Feb. 28, 2019, to mark the 60th anniversary of the sit-in.