Raleigh joined the Sister Cities movement in the early 1980s at the instigation of Ed Walters, Raleigh Mayor Pro Tempore, after he attended a National League of Cities conference. Established by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956, Sister Cities International was initially coordinated by the U.S. Department of State and then moved to the National League of Cities. This international program was established to promote friendly relations and mutual understanding between citizens of U.S. cities and those of similar cities in foreign countries.
On returning to Raleigh, Mr. Walters asked the City Council to study and recommend Raleigh’s participation. In March 1984, Raleigh City Council appropriated $350 for membership in SCI and, in April 1984, appointed a 9 member ad hoc council Sister Cities Committee, chaired by Councilman Walters.
The first major undertaking of the Committee was to plan an International Festival for Raleigh. The Festival subcommittee, chaired by Millie Schecter, was successful, and the event took place in Raleigh Civic Center in October 1986.
With the support of the City Council, the Committee organized itself as a separate nonprofit organization: Sister Cities Association of Raleigh received its charter on December 31, 1985. Funding was initially received from both the Raleigh City Council and the Wake County Board of Commissioners.
Two years later, at the opening ceremonies of Raleigh’s first International Festival, Mayor Avery Upchurch and Lord Mayor Pearlman signed the Certificates of Affiliation making Hull Raleigh’s first sister city.
In the ensuing years, Raleigh partnered with Shinyanga, Tanzania (1987), Compiègne, France (1989); Kolomna, Russia (1997); Rostock, Germany (2001); Xiangyang, China (2009): and Nairobi (2014). Our volunteers and programs continue to flourish, facilitating over 100 exchanges involving more than 1,000 citizens in the areas of education, business, culture, arts, history, and sports.
The organization sponsors many social and cultural events for the community to enjoy. Jamhuri Day, Wine Tasting and Guy Fawkes Nights are only a few of the traditions celebrated by the city committees. Since 2006, RSC has sponsored an International Holiday Market to raise program funds and scholarships. Now an annual tradition at the Raleigh Christmas Parade, the market features food, beverages and holiday fare representing the cultures of the Sister Cities.
RSC joined the Cary, Chapel Hill, Durham and Southern Pines Sister Cities groups to create a work of public art at the RDU International Airport which would symbolize the spirit and mission of the International Sister Cities movement. Dedicated in February 2012, the 45 foot mural “Friendly Folks” is located at the International Arrivals baggage claim in Terminal 2.
To commemorate its 30th anniversary in 2016, RSC presented an array of programs and events to increase the public’s awareness of RSC and to encourage their participation kick-off Celebration and City Council Proclamation; International Student Panel; “Taste of Our Cities” Farm-to-Fork Annual Meeting; and “Art from Raleigh Sister Cities” exhibit.
In 2021, Gibraltar joined Raleigh as its newest Sister City. Currently, RSC continues to offer programs involving hundreds of citizens, volunteers, and orgs.