Eastern Carolina Christian College Honors North Carolina Civil Rights Pioneer Sarah Key Evans In Public Art Project

ROANOKE RAPIDS, N.C. — East Carolina Christian College & Seminary, artist Napolean Hill, and community members unveiled a public art project August 1st to honor Sarah Keys Evans, according to a press release.

The college says Evans was an African-American woman who was arrested for refusing to move to the back of an interstate bus for a white marine on August 2nd, 1952. At the time of Mrs. Evans arrest, she was wearing her official Women’s Army Corps uniform and heading from New Jersey to her hometown of Washington, North Carolina.

Evans was the first African-American petitioner to bring a complaint on a Jim Crow bus matter to the U.S. Interstate Commerce Commission, and this lead to a breakthrough civil rights case, Keys v. Carolina Coach Company (1955), in which the ICC broke its “separate but equal” doctrine.

The college says this ruling was announced six days before Rosa Parks’ historic defiance of Jim Crow laws in Alabama, and that Evans should be credited for her necessary activism that lead to taking down Jim Crow transportation laws in the South in 1961.

“As chancellor and co-founder of Eastern Carolina Christian College & Seminary (ECCCS) and chair of the Sarah Keys Evans Inclusive Public Art Project, I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude for the rare opportunity to have served with the project committee, project partners, the City of Roanoke Rapids and others who contributed their service and support to help bring this ‘priceless’ and worthwhile project to fruition,” said Dr. Charles McCollum, chancellor and co-founder of ECCCS and chair of the Sarah Keys Evans Inclusive Public Art Project.“Though the undertaking was somewhat challenging at times, I consider it a privilege to have shared in the meaningful experience of highlighting Mrs. Keys Evans’ compelling, unknown and often under-told story of justice and equality that forever changed the course of African American history and world history. By virtue of the fact that Mrs. Keys Evans is an African American woman who took a bold stand for justice in an era when it was not safe to do so (she already had two strikes against her), her story speaks volumes in our present struggle for justice and equality. On behalf of Eastern Carolina Christian College & Seminary, we are eternally grateful to Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation for the opportunity to serve as host and grant recipient for the Sarah Keys Evans Inclusive Public Art project entitled ‘Closing the Circle’.”

The art project, funded by Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation Inclusive Public Art grant, includes eight chronological mural panels and two bronze plaques on semi-circular brick walls titled, “Closing the Circle,” located in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park, according to the college.

“I feel that the project is long overdue and well deserved,” said Napolean Hill, a local artist from Enfield, North Carolina, who developed the artwork for this project. “This history deserves the recognition it is getting now, and I wish her much luck.”