INTEGRATION OF MOVIE THEATERs 

and ending job discrimination

American Movie Theather.jpg
American Theater in Roanoke, Virignia

REV. R.R. WILKINSON AND BIRACIAL COMMITTEE TAKES ON SEGREGATED MOVIE THEATERS

May 25th, 1963
Courtesy of The Roanoke Times

On May 25th, 1963, Rev. R.R. Wilkinson and the Biracial Committee reconvened to integrate American Theater in Roanoke, Virginia. The Biracial Committee gained the support of Mayor Murray Stoller. He agreed to work with the committee by requesting that movie theater owners in Roanoke admit African Americans in all white movie theaters starting with the American Theater. The American Theater along with several other theaters in Roanoke did not admit African Americans. Roanoke theater however had a colored section in the balcony where African Americans had to enter at the side door leading to the balcony. While most white customers could sit anywhere downstairs through the main entrance of the theater.  

1963 Movie Tickets for colored section..
1960's Roanoke Theater movie tickets for African Americans to sit in balcony where the colored section of the theater was located.

Mayor Stoller tried to convince the owner of American Theater Henry Scholz to integrate his movie theater, but he refused. Rev. R.R. Wilkinson have been down this road before, so he had a backup plan. Rev. R.R. Wilkinson always kept a low profile when negotiating to integrate white only businesses. He saw it as a strategic advantage to achieve desegregation. So, he appointed biracial committee member G. Frank Clement to be chairman of the Human Relations subcommittee regarding integrating movie theaters in Roanoke and employment of minorities. G. Frank Clement was also President and Chairman of Shenandoah Life insurance company. Rev. R.R. Wilkinson knew that G. Frank Clement salesmanship skills would come in handy when dealing with white theater owners to persuade them to integrate.

July 8, 1963
Courtesy of The Roanoke Times
Courtesy of The Roanoke Times

FOUR ROANOKE THEATERS INTEGRATED

Courtesy of The Roanoke Times

On August 8th, 1963 G. Frank Clement, Rev. R.R. Wilkinson and the Biracial Committee held a secret meeting with all four movie theater owners of the Grandin Theater, Jefferson Theater, Lee Theater, and even the American theater which Henry Scholz owned. Scholz along with all the other theater owners negotiated integration strategies with the Biracial Committee. All owners agreed to start admitting African Americans in their white only theaters without government interference. Gradually, other movie theaters such as Roanoke Theater desegregated as well by 1964, including drive in movie theaters in Roanoke.

REV. R.R. WILKINSON FIGHTS JOB DISCRIMINATION 

ROANOKE FIRE DEPARTMENT INTEGRATES

historic-fire-station-1thumb_edited.jpg
Courtesy of RoanokeFire.com
Fire Station Number 1 at 13 Church Avenue SW, Roanoke, Virignia

Rev. R.R. Wilkinson and the NAACP were notified that African Americans in several Roanoke Fire departments were denied employment. So, Rev. R.R. Wilkinson made a request to the Mayor and Roanoke City Council to get African American firefighters employed. However, there were some white individuals within the fire departments who opposed integrating and begin to make excuses as to why. But Rev. R.R. Wilkinson refused to give into their fears and excuses of not working with African Americans. Mayor Murray Stoller advised patience to the Roanoke NAACP and to give white only establishments time to adjust to rapid desegregation since at that time, the integration of Roanoke Theaters was still in negotiation stage. The Mayor wanted Rev. Wilkinson to slow down. But the Rev. R.R. Wilkinson take on the matter was that the black citizens of Roanoke have waited long enough. So, Rev. R.R. Wilkinson devise his own strategy, he would go directly to Firefighter Chief Sidney W. Vaughan to persuade him to hire African Americans in Roanoke fire departments.

In June 1963, Rev. R.R. Wilkinson begin negotiation talks with Fire Chief Sidney W. Vaughan on hiring African Americans in Roanoke Fire Department. Chief Vaughan agreed with Mr. Wilkinson on hiring black firefighters but warned him that the process will not be quick. However, he passed on their negotiation conversation to Mayor Stoller and Roanoke City Manager Owens convincing them to agree on integrating Fire Stations in Roanoke. On November 21st, 1963, the two African American men were hired and would begin training as firefighters.

Courtesy of The Roanoke Times
Nov 21, 1963
Courtesy of The Roanoke Times

On December 2nd, 1963 Joseph C. Crutchfield (27) and Rawleigh W. Quarles (21) became the first two black men to be hired as firemen in Roanoke, Virginia. Crutchfield and Quarles were among five African Americans taking mental and physical exams for employment to the fire department.

20210103_152135[1].jpg
Joseph C. Crutchfield
20210103_152045[1].jpg
Rawleigh W. Quarles

REV. R.R. WILKINSON FIGHTS JOB DISCRIMINATION IN SANITATION DEPARTMENT

In 1964 the Roanoke NAACP branch was getting disturbing reports of job discrimination in Roanoke Sanitation Department. There were several incidents where African American truck drivers were being replaced by white truck drivers who had little experience working for the sanitation department. These black men were working family men with skills to operate trucks but were not given the opportunity to utilize those skills in order to make a living just because of the color of their skin. After hearing several more incidents that the sanitation department were practicing discrimination acts towards black men, the Rev. R.R. Wilkinson sent a telegram to Mayor Murry Stoller, the Roanoke City Manager Arthur S. Owens, and to Roanoke City Council asking them to investigate discrimination in the sanitation department and to take the necessary steps to correct the situation as soon as possible.

Sanitation%20NAACP%20Letter_edited.png

"WE ARE ON OUR WAY TO FREEDOMSVILLE." 

----- REV. R.R. WILKINSON

May 1964
Courtesy of The Roanoke Times

While Roanoke City Council assigned City Manager Owens to investigate charges of discrimination in the sanitation department, the Rev. R.R. Wilkinson and the NAACP held meetings at night in Hill Street Baptist Church and First Baptist Church to discuss further action and possible protests or nonviolent demonstrations on this issue. Rev. R.R. Wilkinson knew from experience to read between the lines. When an all white Roanoke government say they will investigate the matter, that usually means they were stalling. Since the Roanoke sanitation department excuses for not hiring blacks were that several black employers lack the skills to operate machines or trucks, the NAACP and Rev. R.R. Wilkinson begin to push down hard on them to train more African Americans as crane operators so they can be ready for hire. However, when sanitation employers did not comply, the Rev. R.R. Wilkinson would threaten them with more demonstrations. Rev. R.R. Wilkinson threats of demonstrations forced Roanoke City Manager Owens to move faster in his investigation of discrimination in the sanitation department. 

"WE WILL FORM A HUMAN CHAIN TO BLOCK THE STREET TO THE CITY INCINERATOR.'' ----- REV. R.R. WILKINSON.

June 10, 1964
Courtesy of The Roanoke Times
July 2, 1964
Courtesy of The Roanoke Times

ROANOKE CITY MANAGER CHARGES SANITATION DEPARTMENT WITH RACIAL DISCRIMINATION 

July 3, 1964
Courtesy of The Roanoke Times