Finding Inspiration in Local Civil Rights History

A collage of black and white photos from Durham's civil rights history. Includes several photos of Black protestors with signs, and a photo of Dr. King.

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others.

The killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd by police marked an eye-opening moment for many white Americans—myself included—whose privilege had allowed us to remain relatively untouched and unaware of the systemic racism intrinsically embedded in policing in this country. The protests that followed forced a renewed individual and social introspection and imperative to action. And they rightly demanded a roll call among organizations: clearly state support for Black people in America and the Black Lives Matter movement—or otherwise be viewed as complicit.

In helping to prepare our statement in support of protestors and the movement, I came across the Durham Civil Rights Heritage Project website created by the Durham County Library. The digital exhibit explored stories and photographs from key moments in the civil rights struggle that occurred here in Durham.

They were striking.

Images from not so long ago.

It’s one thing to see photos of Klan members in history books. But it’s an entirely different experience to see the scowl of a Klan leader in full regalia, standing in front of the City Hall building on Main Street. I’ve walked through the frame of that photo dozens of times and recognized the location instantly. It hasn’t changed.

Some images were more than half a century old but arrestingly indistinguishable from current events. Peaceful Black protestors walking past a line of white National Guardsmen with bayonets at the ready. Students in the street at night with signs demanding an end to police brutality. Police with gas masks, beating prone protestors with clubs with tear gas hissing through the air.

A collaborative redesign.

As striking as the content was, the site design was well out of date. It wasn’t responsive or accessible, and looked old and uninviting. This seemed like a great opportunity to contribute time and talent towards creating a better and more accessible vehicle for these stories and images.

I’m grateful that Savas Labs creates a venue for employee-directed work with our Labs™ space, through which we experiment with new technologies and explore projects we’re passionate about.

I’m grateful for our Labs™ space at Savas, which is a venue for employee-directed work.

I reached out to the Durham Library team, who were enthusiastically open to partnering with us on a pro-bono redesign of the site. They were great partners throughout the process, and helped in the curation and creation of content.

With their help, we transformed the site from a staid and inaccessible exhibit into an engaging experience with image galleries and a responsive, animated timeline.

Stay engaged.

Spend some time on the new Durham Civil Rights Heritage Project website. Read the stories, absorb the images, and engage in the ongoing fight for civil rights in your town.