Mandy Carter: Scientist of Activism


Photograph of Mandy Carter

This exhibit honors the life and work of Mandy Carter, a Durham-based Black lesbian activist who has been a central figure in the American struggle for social justice for over five decades. Four organizations and movements that Carter joined, founded, or led are celebrating anniversaries this year, including the War Resisters League (100 years), the 1963 March on Washington (60 years), Southerners On New Ground (30 years), and the National Black Justice Coalition (20 years). Together, they represent a legacy of social change defined by nonviolent resistance, Black freedom movements, and queer liberation.

Much like social and political movements, this exhibit is loosely linear. It is divided into themes that make up the science of Carter’s activism, beginning with her childhood in the foster care system, through her career as an activist, and ending with the organizations and movements she joined or established. Carter’s activist career began with War Resisters League/West and War Resisters League/Los Angeles in California and guided her move to Durham in 1982. While in Durham, Carter led efforts to mobilize people to the 1963 March on Washington anniversaries and to Duke University to speak and bring musicians to educate, agitate, and organize young students. Being Black and lesbian also pushed Carter to co-found Southerners On New Ground (SONG) and the National Black Justice Coalition and lead the National Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum. Carter’s ideal for social change in North Carolina also pushed her into organizing against Senator Jesse Helms as the co-founder of Senate Vote '90.

This exhibit is for everyone who believes that individuals and communities can effect real change. It is for those who want to create policies, carry the microphone, and teach, and also those still figuring out what change looks like. We encourage you to look at Carter's work and see where you fit in. Several moments in the exhibit offer opportunities to get involved, question what freedom means to you, and think about who inspires you.

What is Activism?

Activism begins with dreaming of a better community, state, nation, or world. It requires long-term vision, strategy, and patience. Activists and community organizers stay grounded in the communities they work alongside, and they are often held accountable as community leaders. Community organizing involves facilitating many meetings, connecting with community members, and taking direct action to disrupt broken social and political systems. Activism has no age limit and can be a profession, hobby, or way of life.

Pride Flag

Pride Flag

Flags are often unifying symbols for nations and identity-based groups. The evolution of the Pride flag exemplifies how liberation movements can grow and become more inclusive. The original Pride flag, created by Gilbert Baker in 1978, features six colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. According to Baker, the rainbow design was meant to express the joy, beauty, and power of gay people. By 2017, it had evolved into the “More Color, More Pride” flag, including black and brown stripes to represent people of color. The following year, the colors pink, white, and light blue, yellow, and a purple circle were added to increase the visibility and awareness of trans, intersex, and non-binary people. The decades-long activism Carter has done for Black and Brown LGBTQ people and trans and non-binary folks correlates to this change.

This exhibit was curated with intention by Kamau Pope, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History with the assistance of Mandy Carter, Activist, along with support from:

Meg Brown, Head, Exhibition Services and E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation Exhibits Librarian
Michael Daul, Digital Projects Developer
Henry Hebert, Conservator for Special Collections
Kimber J. Heinz, Ph.D. Student in American Studies at UNC Chapel Hill and Founder and Principal of Scaffold Exhibits and Consulting
Yoon Kim, Senior Library Exhibition Technician
Laura Micham, Director, Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture and Curator, Gender and Sexuality History Collections
Aaron Welborn, Director of Communications
Kelly Wooten, Research Services and Collection Development Librarian, Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture

The design was created by a local Black-owned firm, Kompleks Creative, and the typeface was designed by Tre' Seals of Vocal Type. Ben Alper printed and installed the “wraps” on walls.

We would like to thank the following donors and sponsors:

Reverend Jeanette Stokes
Department of History at Duke University
E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation
The Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture
The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Lastly, we want to thank the movement organizations, individuals, and moments that have gotten us closer to freedom and justice.

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