Feb 8, 2022
Two moments in the civil rights struggle at both ends of the 1960s are memorialized on the campus of North Carolina A&T State University

By Paul Tarricone

In February 1960, four freshmen from North Carolina A&T State University (as it’s known today) made their mark on the civil rights movement by staging a sit-in at the lunch counter of Woolworth’s—an all-white eating establishment—where they demanded equal service. The sit-in was planned in the Scott Hall dormitory, where the Greensboro Four, as they came to be known, were residents. Their actions led to a national campaign of sit-ins waged by 70,000 students, both white and black, in the months that followed.

In May 1969, responding to race riots, the National Guard rolled onto the North Carolina A&T campus, spraying one side of Scott Hall with bullets, leaving one student dead and two wounded.

Today, each of those historic events—bookends to a decade of civil rights struggles—are commemorated by a subtle yet powerful memorial on the campus of North Carolina A&T. The $2 million project consists of four monuments at each corner of a reflecting pool. When viewed from a distance—with the new dorm replacing Scott Hall in the background—the pool and plaza call to mind a timeline, with the monuments on either side serving as a starting and endpoint.

That, one might say, is the big picture. The mission for Clark Nexsen Architecture + Engineering, Charlotte, NC, however, was to underscore the personal nature of the memorial by deftly repurposing the bullet-riddled brick wall of the now-demolished Scott Hall. “The question was how do we bring the wall down to a human scale to tell a story?” says Noll Kretschmann, electrical engineer for Clark Nexsen. The university and design team considered a few options for the wall’s role in the memorial. One was simply to leave it in place, but that idea “didn’t play well,” says Kretschmann, and was ruled out due to aesthetic concerns and questions about how visitors might interact with a large free-standing wall.

Instead, the plan that was implemented called for breaking down the wall and “compartmentalizing it to create something you could walk up to,” says Kretschmann. “The architects studied other memorials, like the Washington Monument, to determine how we could create that type of serene environment.” Ultimately, eight sections of the damaged wall were cut out and stored while the new dormitory was built near the site of the memorial. In the end, the plaza design called for just four of these brick sections—each identical in size—to be used to flank the pool. The downsized wall sections reinforce the intimate connection visitors are meant to have with the memorial.


With this downsized approach came a minimalist, three-prong lighting solution: custom, “half-height” bollards around the site complemented by small wall grazers to downlight the brick walls and plaques, and in-grade uplights behind each monument. “The plaza site [measuring 50 ft by 110 ft] was an empty space between two large buildings in a large quad—like ‘white space,“says Kretschmann. “We didn’t want to litter it with 16-ft high light poles.” As a result, Kretschmann specified customized bollards (Kim Lighting) measuring approximately 28-in.-high with 70-W metal halide lamps. A full-size version of the same bollard is used across other areas of the campus.

The scaled-down bollards allow the 7-ft-high monuments “to stand tall,” explains Kretschmann. “They keep the light out of a visitor’s eyes, at a level below the waist that is on the same plane as the plaques.” The four plaques, which rest on a stone base below the brick-wall section of each monument, tell the story of the Greensboro Four, Willie Grimes (the student killed during the ‘69 riots), the Scott Hall dorm and the university in general.

Internal house-side shields in the bollards reinforce the memorial boundary and minimize spill light onto the lawn areas. “This kept the light in the paved area only,” says Kretschmann. The light from the bollards also reflects off the water in the pool, which measures 30 ft by 75 ft.

A total of 19 bollards were installed on grass surrounding the sidewalk next to the pool. The grass, though, is below the grade of the sidewalk, so the bollards were placed on a small base 4 in. above grade to bring them flush with the sidewalk. There was a maintenance advantage to these pedestals, in that they protect the bollards from grounds crews using weed wackers in this grassy area.


LED wall grazers (io Lighting) create the drama for visitors as they come face-to-face with the four pockmarked, bullet-ridden brick walls preserved within each monument. A niche was built into the top of each to conceal the 30-in. long, 30-W fixtures, while allowing them to be placed near the illuminated surface. The question was “how to light an otherwise simple brick wall with bullet holes?” says Kretschmann. The classic wall-grazing technique was the answer: “Hit the wall at a shallow angle to create a shadow.”

There were other viable sources for these niches, notes Kretschmann. “LEDs weren’t the only option, but maintenance in this small space wasn’t going to happen. The lamp life for these LEDs is eight to 10 years. When they do fail, we can just replace the luminaires.” However, the LED drivers, located in weathertight access boxes in the stone base of each monument, are readily accessible. Finally, behind each monument is the third component of the lighting solution: an in-grade 4-W LED uplight (from Intense Lighting).

As a public monument, the project was exempt from energy codes, but energy usage was still kept to .22 watts per sq ft, in part due to a photocell control system. A two-channel time clock is tied into the overall campus lighting system; the lighting for the memorial plaza was designed to operate from dusk to midnight.

During these hours, the connection between visitors and monuments is strengthened by one more simple yet compelling design touch: stone benches. “People have brought their grandparents back to see the memorial,” says Kretschmann.


Paul Tarricone

Paul Tarricone

Paul Tarricone has more 25 years of experience in association and business-to-business publishing, specializing in the engineering, design, construction and facilities management markets. Mr. Tarricone currently serves as Editor and Publisher of Lighting Design + Application,... More info »