Deserved Honor For Felton Capel
T hough there is no way that Southern Pines could ever fully repay Felton Capel for all he has meant to it, the renaming of a street for him was a good and appropriate start.
And not just any street. The new Felton Capel Lane, heretofore a section of South Knoll Road, stretches from Morganton Road to the traffic roundabout near Pinecrest High School - where, as destiny would have it, Felton Capel Lane links up with Voit Gilmore Lane.
The poignant appropriateness of that now-permanent connection should jump off the page at anyone who knows anything about Capel and the late Voit Gilmore. The two played a courageous and visionary role in peacefully accomplishing racial integration here at a time when that social revolution was causing such violent and bitter conflict in so many other American localities.
A Quiet Revolution
Capel is black. Gilmore was white. Both men were prominent and respected businessmen. After rising to the rank of master sergeant in the Army, Capel made a name for himself in a highly successful cookware sale and distribution operation.
In 1962, the two men launched a quiet local revolution by walking together up to the first tee at Mid Pines to begin a game of golf on a course where blacks had formerly been welcomed only as caddies. Then they calmly but resolutely strolled in to watch a movie from the main floor of the Sunrise Theater, which to that point had relegated minority patrons to the balcony, accessible only from a separate entrance. Next, they bowled a game together in a previously segregated alley.
The fact that none of that sounds very unusual in today's world testifies to the low-key social earthquake that the two friends, from such different backgrounds, quietly touched off. So respected were they that hardly anyone at any of those three establishments seems to have raised much question or resistance to their joint act of genteel civil disobedience.
'Uplifted and Inspired Others'
Capel had already won election to the Southern Pines Town Council in 1959 and later served as mayor pro tem. He has played leadership roles in civic ventures too numerous to list, approaching them with an unfailingly courteous, positive and generous attitude. He surely ranks as the most beloved member of the Southern Pines Rotary, in which he has played many leadership roles.
Carol Haney, wife of former Mayor Mike Haney, was a prime mover in the effort to come up with an appropriate way to honor Capel. The street renaming seems to have primarily been the brainchild of current Mayor David McNeill, though he modestly downplays his role.
At the recent ceremony, McNeill described Capel as "a big man whose gentle ways, combined with his efforts to do the right thing over his lifetime, have uplifted and inspired others ... a person whose leadership and service have led to a better Southern Pines." Indeed.
The 85-year-old Capel, usually so eloquent, was at a loss for words. He could only express his love and appreciation to those gathered there. "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you," he kept repeating.
No, Felton. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
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