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Years in the making, two churches will journey to Greensboro's civil rights museum
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Years in the making, two churches will journey to Greensboro's civil rights museum

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There’s a bus trip this weekend to Greensboro that’s been about 40 years in the making.

That’s roughly when J.C. Taylor and Ken Briggs met each other, as members of the Roanoke Kiwanis Club.

Taylor’s a Black entrepreneur in the real estate industry. Briggs, now retired, is a white businessman who owned an office-supply company.

Over the years, their introduction grew into a close friendship. And that friendship involved some no holds-barred discussions on some touchy subjects — like race. Those were honest and sometimes beyond their own comfort zones.

Both men recognized that, in terms of civil rights, our nation has come a long way since the days of slavery. They also realized that in other ways, a societal divide remains. And that Sundays are a prime example.

“We talked about how segregated we were in our Sunday (church) meetings,” said Briggs, who attends Windsor Hills United Methodist Church in Roanoke County. Taylor’s church is Shiloh Baptist in Salem.

So they pondered ways to bridge that gulf. One result was a sort-of Baptist-Methodist exchange program between members of Sunday school classes at each church. That began in November, with members of each class visiting the other via Zoom (it would have happened in person, but for the coronavirus pandemic).

They got together, again via Zoom, for a larger service the night of Ash Wednesday in February.

Then one Saturday morning in May, about 50 members of the two classes met in person for breakfast and fellowship at a Holiday Inn.

In late August, about 35 of those folks assembled for a tour of Gainsboro, Roanoke’s oldest Black neighborhood. That was led by Jordan Bell, a Roanoke educator and historian.

The next chapter in this low-key endeavor is Saturday, when members of the two congregations will climb aboard a chartered bus in Salem for a ride to Greensboro.

There, they’ll visit the International Civil Rights Center & Museum. It opened in 2010, in a former F.W. Woolworth Co. store. Its now-famous lunch counter became a civil rights fulcrum in 1960, when Black students from N.C. A&T declined to leave after being refused service because of their race.

Similar protests cropped up around the South, and there were lots of marches, too.

Many of those demonstrators were beaten. A smaller number were killed. But the protesters made their point.

In 1964, Congress outlawed segregation in restaurants and other public accommodations like public bathrooms and water fountains. It’s no stretch to say Greensboro is one of the places the movement originated.

So far, 50 people have signed up for the daylong trip, which leaves at 8 a.m. Saturday from Shiloh Baptist in Salem. Among them will be members of a couple of other congregations from Roanoke and Franklin counties.

Taylor said that one of the reasons the trip’s important is “people’s attitudes have changed big time in the past four years,” with respect to race. And he fears that direction isn’t a positive one. He thinks members of both races need to talk more to each other.

During the Sunday school class exchange, “I think everybody realized, we’re seeking the same thing — eternal life,” Taylor said. “We also realized we’re not going to get there until we get along.”

Briggs added: “Jesus taught us to love our neighbors. Before you love your neighbor, you have to know him.”

Contact metro columnist Dan Casey at 981-3423 or dan.casey@roanoke.com.

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