Seven windows, seven doors

Ruby Sinreich's picture

This month there was (is?) a very thoughtful piece of activism in downtown Chapel Hill. With "Seven Windows, Seven Doors" local artist-activists painted silouettes on the boarded up openings on the old bus station. Soon the bus station will be demolished to make room for a luxury hotel.

This unique act combined art, protest, and history in an effective and touching message. The pictures are combined with words expressing the experiences of people who passed through the bus station in past decades. "I left here hoping to escape..." "I was discriminated against here..." "I enforced the law here..." "I looked away here..." "I won on a full house here..."

Here's is Sally Greene's photo gallery and her blog post about it. Also, here is an interview with Matt Robinson (one of the creators) by Brian Russell of AudioActivism.org.

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Well, this public art is no

Well, this public art is no more. It has been destroyed to make room for the little anticipated upscale hotel. I suppose this 'tragedy' was anticipated by the creators of the artwork, but it is a little sad nonetheless, given the rarity of something like this in downtown Chapel Hill.

7 doors/ 7 windows is now

7 doors/ 7 windows is now destroyed, a construction crew having demolished the old bus station at 311 w. Franklin Street today, Friday, December 3.

Which is exactly what the collaborators behind the project understood when it was planned. The bus station is being cleared away to make room for a luxury hotel, certainly a more profitable use than the derelict bus station had been of late. It was built in 1947, and opened for service on April 18...one week after famed civil rights leader Bayard Rustin and several other men were arrested for violating Jim Crow laws pertaining to interstate transportation. These men undertook the first true "freedom rides" on the heels of a Supreme Court ruling that declared interstate transit to be provided on a non-segregated basis. Rustin and the others were literally chased out of town by racist taxi drivers after their arrest. Rev. Charlie Jones drove them to safety in Greensboro in his car (they couldn't take the bus). The bus station itself was the last place in town to take down the "Colored" and "White" signs over the formerly segregated restrooms, keeping these reminders of a white supremacist past well into the 1970s.

The rear doors and windows had been boarded up in the last few months, keeping vandals and squatters out of the dilapidated structure. I initially wanted to write an article about the bus station's history to mark its passing, but seeing the clean, fresh plywood and wanting to do a stencil project, I chose to commemorate the history of the place in a different way.

7 doors/7 windows was a site-specific installation meant to convey the variety of experiences that folks had while it was in operation. The centerpiece, obviously, was about race. But we wanted to make it more than a poliltical statement; the bus station served as a lot more than another outpost of southern racism. Folks worked there for years, minor relationship dramas played out there, people came and went with all the cares, worries, joys, and disappointments that characterized the last half of the 20th century. Couples reunited, students faced stultifyingly long journeys, young men went to, and sometimes returned from, military service and war, and travelers from all over the world found their way to Chapel Hill through its doors.

A couple of explanations...

The poker reference on door #6 ("I won on a full house here") pertains to legendary high-stakes, all-night poker games that took place in the basement for years, until they were raided by the cops. Folks would ride into town, perhaps for a UNC football game, and play cards all night, catching a bus the next day to go home.

The last window in the series (a silhouette of a tree outside a window) was a simple meditation on the ecological place of the station. The tree out front is almost 50 years old, and will be shortly axed to make way for the upcoming fancy hotel. It no doubt shaded many a weary traveler awaiting a ride, or facing a long, hot summer walk to campus.

The collaborators on the project want to thank everyone who stopped and checked it out. We encourage folks to formulate their own public art projects, and hope that 7 doors/7 windows was entertaining, interesting, and thought-provoking for those who appreciated it.