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'The Struggle Continues; It Never Stopped': Charlotteans Reflect On Race, Protests

Mattie Marshall sits on her porch one block away from where the Charlotte protests first erupted about one month ago.
Claire Donnelly
Mattie Marshall sits on her porch one block away from where the Charlotte protests first erupted about one month ago.


As a child, Christine Roseboro Bowser easily noticed the differences between white and Black people in her town. The white people had nicer clothes and nicer homes.

When she was 10 years old, Bowser had an idea.

“Seeing how white people lived and seeing how black people lived, I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to be white?’” Bowser said. “And I was so silly -- brainwashed, I don’t know what it was -- to think if I took a bath in Clorox that I would turn white like the clothes would.”


Her mother quickly rushed in to pull Bowser out of the tub.


And then there was the time Bowser’s family was worried her father would be targeted by the Ku Klux Klan. A white woman complimented his new car and he jokingly asked the woman whether she would like a ride in it.


The family had a knock on their door that evening. It was the police.


“They said, ‘Well, the Klansmen might come out and get you.’ The policemen were very nice -- everybody knew my father. So they took him into jail for safety,” Bowser said.


This was the mid-1940s in Winnsboro, South Carolina, a town about 30 miles north of Columbia.


Bowser said her father spent several weeks in hiding before the family fled about 60 miles north to Charlotte. These memories are back on Bowser’s mind more often lately, as people march and protest across the U.S. following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.


Bowser is in her 80s now and said she’s frustrated that she can’t join the demonstrations because of her age and the coronavirus pandemic. But she’s proud to see the Black Lives Matter movement spreading globally.


“All over the world, there’s a class that’s at the top and other people down at the bottom. So this is a good time for everybody to express their feelings and support Blacks in the world,” Bowser said.


The protests also remind her of regrets she has about the civil rights movement in the 1960s. She wasn’t as involved as she would have liked.


“I didn’t go to Washington for the march and I regret that to this day,” Bowser said, adding that she would have loved to see civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. speak at the march on Washington.


But she said her husband didn’t want to go and it didn’t occur to her to go alone. When local protests happened while Bowser was living in Durham, she had a baby to take care of.


“If I were not in that situation, I would’ve been there,” she said.


Protests first erupted in Charlotte about one month ago. On the first night, the demonstrations were just one block from Mattie Marshall’s house. Marshall has also been sitting out the protests.


“I stepped out of my house to bring my trash cans in and I noticed all of these cars up and down the street. And I’m going, ‘What is this?’ It didn’t look good and it didn’t feel good,” Marshall said.


That night, protesters broke the windows of the nearby Food Lion on Beatties Ford Road. Police fired tear gas. Charlotte-Mecklenburg police arrested at least 15 people.

But Marshall said she has been happy over the past several weeks to see so many people, especially young people, peacefully protesting police brutality and advocating for the equal treatment of Black people.

“I always say ‘a luta continua.’ ‘The struggle continues.’ It never stopped,” Marshall said.


Marshall is the president of the neighborhood association for Washington Heights, a historically Black neighborhood. She, like Bowser, didn’t march during the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Marshall, who is now in her 70s, said she was in high school at the time and adjusting to having just moved from Georgia to New York. Marshall said she was happy then to experience and document history, and she’s happy to play that role again.


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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.