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Kinston Drugstore Added To National Register Of Historic Places

The protests we see today echo a movement that was felt in eastern North Carolina more than 50 years ago.  This week on the Down East Journal, we examine the history of Standard Drug #2 in Kinston, a location recently added to the National Register of Historic Places.  The property’s racially segregated lunch counter was the site of two sit-ins during the Civil Rights movement. 

The National Register of Historic Places added 18 sites to its North Carolina list in late April.  This includes eastern North Carolina locations Everett’s Historic District in Martin County and the Brookwood Historic District in New Hanover County.  A historic site in Lenoir County also made the list.  Built in 1921, Standard Drug #2 was a pharmacy and a racially segregated lunch counter.  It was also the site of two Civil Rights movement sit-ins in the early 1960s. 

The non-violent protest on February 1st, 1960 in Greensboro at the Woolsworth lunch counter triggered other demonstrations in small towns across the state, including a lesser known sit in at Standard Drug #2 in downtown Kinston. Restoration/Preservation Specialist with the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office John Wood says little information exists from reports at the time of the sit in.

“Some said that they believe it was because it was white owned newspapers that was doing the reporting, that they didn’t think it was something worth reporting. Others thought, and this may be a lot of it, that it happened so spontaneously and quickly that it’s not like today where someone sends out a social media and press can be there in a second.  It had come and gone before the press even had time to respond to it.”

The primary way history of Standard Drug #2 had been passed on is through the stories of protesters and witnesses.  High school students Samuel Dove, Curtis Henderson and Thomas Henderson were inspired by the Greensboro sit in to affect change by patronizing the lunch counter at Standard Drug #2 on the corner of Queen Street and E. Caswell Street.  Thomas stayed outside the building as a “lookout”, while Samuel and Curtis went in to sit at the whites only lunch counter.

“Basically one of the students who was fairly fluent in French or something convinced the people at the lunch counter that the other student was either a foreign dignitary or a foreign exchange student and visiting from out of town and used this limited command of French that he had to kind of dupe the people there that this not someone from Kinston, it was someone from a foreign country.”

After being served a breakfast of eggs, bacon and coffee, the students ran off because their mothers were ministers and they were afraid of the repercussions.

"Standard Drug Store" sign hangs above the awning on E. Caswell Street.

A year later, another sit in occurred during a protest happening outside Standard Drug #2.  Two African American demonstrators went inside the building to claim the only spots at the lunch counter, they were followed by twenty others.  Wood recalls the story of Mrs. Annie Whitehead, a participant in the 1961 sit in.

“The hurried actions of that group caused an anger or panic among the white patrons who then went out the back door or the side door.  Which was interesting, because Mrs. Whitehead in a later interview thought that reaction was fairly ironic since the back door had long served as where the African American entrance to the store was.  So you had this white flight out the back door.”

The protesters sat at the counter where they were served for about two hours.  Eventually, they were asked to leave and the store closed for a short time and reopened later that day. 

As a result of the demonstrations, the owner of Standard Drug #2 Henry Sundreth decided to serve both black and white patrons. In addition to being the first eating establishment in downtown Kinston to offer non-segregated dining, Standard Drug #2 also became one of the first businesses to hire African Americans to serve food and work at the counter. 

54 years later, the Standard Drug #2 building has been renovated and is home to a new business, Hawk’s Nest Café and General Store, across from the CSS Neuse Interpretive Center.  Owner of Hawk’s Nest Café and General Store Judy Johnson says the café is laid out similar to the way it was more than 50 years ago, right down to the original Liquid Carbonic Company brand lunch counter, where the sit ins took place.

 “And the bar stools are original, we just recovered them to make them look nice.  The tin ceiling is original, when we got the building, it had drop ceilings and all fluorescent lighting.”

There are some more modern touches; new kitchen appliances, a touch screen cash register, contemporary light fixtures and colorful paintings adorn the walls.  In the back of the café, the original tin ceiling changes to tongue in groove wood ceiling.  That was where the old drugstore used to be.  Manager Paul Michner says maps dating back to 1876 show that the building has always been a pharmacy and lunch counter.

“1898, they had a fire at the Courthouse.  Almost all of the buildings with the exception of this one were made out of wood, and burnt.  This was the only structure that stayed.  Somewhere between 1920 and 1921, the original pharmacy here which was the Davis Drugstore was leveled.”

A two story building was constructed on the site.  Standard Drug #2 opened on the first floor in 1921, with office space on the 2nd floor.  Over the years, the spot became a popular gathering place for local politicians to swap stories and share the news of the day.

Credit Contributed Photo

 “They’d come in about 10 o’clock to drink their coffee.  They would sit there and the sheriff was always there and there were some state politicians that actually tried to get membership to this roundtable society that they had formed, and they were denied.”

It’s thought that Standard Drug #2 was chosen as the site for the two sit ins for this reason.

Jared Brumbaugh is the Assistant General Manager for Public Radio East. An Eastern North Carolina native, Jared began his professional public radio career at Public Radio East while he was a student at Craven Community College earning his degree in Electronics Engineering Technology. During his 15+ years at Public Radio East, he has served as an award-winning journalist, producer, and on-air host. When not at the station, Jared enjoys hiking, traveling, and honing his culinary skills.