On March 4, 1960, Edenton’s African-American teenagers began to quietly picket the town’s lone movie theater. Organized by Golden A. Frinks, protests quickly spread to other downtown stores. For over a year, the black community picketed and boycotted Edenton’s white-owned businesses.
These early demonstrations climaxed in the fall of 1962. To try and end the protests, Edenton officials adopted a set of laws that restricted picketing. The resulting mass arrests attracted national attention. At the urging of Frinks, Martin Luther King Jr. decided to visit northeastern North Carolina in December 1962.
During the 1962 visit, King spoke both in Elizabeth City and Hertford. The keynote address took place at the National Guard Armory in Edenton on December 21, 1962. He encouraged the 500-member, majority African-American audience to keep up their economic boycott, proclaiming “if you want to respect my dollar, you must also respect my person.”
In response to the national press attention that King’s visit generated, Edenton’s white leaders partially disassembled local segregation laws, and several businesses hired African-American workers. However, any meaningful attempts at desegregation quickly stalled, and the status quo returned.
African-American protests continued across the Albemarle, reaching a crescendo in the spring of 1966. In Hertford, town officials answered calls for the hiring of black policemen and store clerks with firehoses and nightsticks. As a rejoinder to the violence, 100 African-American protesters marched from Hertford to Edenton.
Again prompted by area civil rights organizers, King returned to the region on May 8, 1966. Speaking once again at Edenton’s National Guard Armory, he discussed local events but focused his remarks on the greater national movement for equality.
He also talked of his devotion to racial justice saying, "There are some things worth dying for and if a man hasn't found something for which he is willing to die, then he isn't worth living." Less than two years later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lay dead in Memphis from an assassin’s bullet.