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Wense Grabarek, Durham mayor during integration, dies at 100

News & Observer - 12/16/2019

Dec. 16--DURHAM -- Former Durham mayor and World War II Army veteran Robert Wensell "Wense" Grabarek died early Sunday morning. He was 100.

His funeral service will be at 2 p.m. on Dec. 23 at Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham. He will be buried at 1 p.m. at Maplewood Cemetery.

Grabarek served as mayor from 1963 to 1971. He was elected the same day as mass demonstrations in the city against racial inequality in which 850 protesters were arrested, nine years after the Brown vs. Board decision.

Three days into his term, on his birthday May 21, he spoke to a crowd at St. Joseph's AME Church and promised to make a change if they would give him time.

Two days later, he created the Durham Interim Committee, to "resolve and reconcile" the racial issues in the city. Segregation ended at many of Durham's restaurants, hotels, libraries and movie theaters over the next few months.

"When I was elected mayor, the entire country was involved in a state of chaos in the matter of civil rights," Grabarek said at the city's 150th anniversary celebration in 2018. "We should all be extremely proud of Durham, because for all of our diversity and turmoil throughout the country and other cities, Durham desegregated voluntarily."

On May 21, 2018, the Durham City Council celebrated Grabarek's 98th birthday as "Wense Grabarek Day in Durham."

Former City Councilman Eddie Davis, who organized the day of recognition said Grabarek brought about a more equitable society in Durham. "He was able to pull together business leaders, city leaders and black leaders to make change," Davis said.

"Our diverse togetherness is life to the soul of the city of Durham. May it ever be so," Grabarek said.

This is a developing new story and will be updated throughout the day.

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