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When Malcom X came to Durham: Floyd McKissick's son recalls 1963 debate on racial integration

From a young age, Floyd McKissick, Jr. lived the Civil Rights history most of us only read about.
Posted 2023-02-24T23:54:44+00:00 - Updated 2023-02-25T00:07:48+00:00

The Civil Rights Movement cut a path through North Carolina – de-segregating schools, marching for equality, planning sit-ins inside spaces where Black men and women were not allowed.

As the son of a National Civil Rights Leader, Floyd McKissick Jr. lived the history many of us read about. At a young age, he was already on the picket lines for racial equality in Durham - inspired by his father's own work in the Civil Rights movement.

His father Floyd McKissick Sr. was part of a seminal moment in the spring of 1963, when he took part in a deliberation with Civil Rights leader Malcolm X.

Growing up in the Civil Rights Movement: Floyd McKissick's son recalls father's debate with Malcom X in Durham

McKissick's father, an attorney, invited the Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X to Durham for the debate.

However, the well-known Civil Rights leader was not welcomed with open arms.

The event almost didn't happen because of the controversy that usually followed Malcolm X. In fact, the city of Durham pulled its support. Other venues, even ones within the Black community, were not as welcoming as they were to other Civil Rights Leaders.

The debate's primary question:

"What was integration as opposed to assimilation?" says McKissick.

Many people were wary of Malcolm X at the time. McKissick says some people thought he would incite violence.

Just hours before the event, the Page Auditorium upstairs of the Pine Street Taxi Stand agreed to host the debate.

The success of the Durham debate led to a second event the very next night –– on the campus of UNC Chapel Hill – that very little is written about.

At the time, the Daily Tar Heel reported about 1,600 people showed up to Memorial Hall.

"[Both my father and Malcolm X] believed in Black enterprise; they both believed in economic development; Black businesses," says McKissick.

Looking back after 60 years, McKissick says the debate he witnessed shaped his life as a public servant.

"It caused me to want to fight for those types of principles with the same type of conviction," he says. "To become a lawyer, to get involved with politics, to fight for equal rights for all."

Passing through the generations, Floyd McKissick, Jr. now runs a successful law firm with his son in Durham.

Those two nights in April 1963 advanced the narrative for the Civil Rights Movement across North Carolina.

Podcast: Listen to Ken Smith's interview with Floyd McKissick, Jr.

You can listen to the rest of Ken's interview with Floyd McKissick Jr. right now in the WRAL Daily Download podcast.