Greensboro sit-ins

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A section of lunch counter from the Greensboro, North Carolina Woolworth is now preserved in the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History

The Greensboro sit-ins were a series of nonviolent protests in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960[1] which led to the Woolworth department store chain reversing its policy of racial segregation in the Southern United States.[2]

While not the first sit-ins of the African-American Civil Rights Movement, the Greensboro sit-ins were an instrumental action, leading to increased national sentiment at a crucial period in US history.[3] The primary event took place at the Greensboro, North Carolina Woolworth store, now the International Civil Rights Center and Museum.

Background[edit]

In August 1939, black attorney Samuel Wilbert Tucker organized a sit-in at the then-segregated Alexandria, Virginia library.[4] In 1942, the Congress of Racial Equality sponsored sit-ins in Chicago, as they did in St. Louis in 1949 and Baltimore in 1952. A 1958 sit-in in Wichita, Kansas also was successful.[5]

Events at Woolworth[edit]

The protests took place at this Woolworth five-and-dime store.

On February 1, 1960, at 4:30pm four students from the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University sat down at the lunch counter inside the Woolworth store at 132 South Elm Street in Greensboro, North Carolina.[2] The men, later known as the A&T Four or the Greensboro Four, went to Woolworth's Store, bought toothpaste and other products from a desegregated counter at the store with no problems, and then were refused service from the segregated lunch counter, at the same store.[1][6][7] Following store policy, the lunch counter staff refused to serve the black men at the "whites only" counter and the store's manager asked them to leave.[8]

The four university freshmen – Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr. (later known as Jibreel Khazan), and David Richmond – stayed until the store closed.[8]

The next day, more than twenty black students who had been recruited from other campus groups came to the store to join the sit-in. Students from Bennett College, a college for black women in Greensboro, joined the protest. White customers heckled the black students, who read books and studied to keep busy. The lunch counter staff continued to refuse service.[7]

Newspaper reporters and a TV videographer covered the second day of peaceful demonstrations and others in the community learned of the protests. On the third day, more than 60 people came to the Woolworth store. A statement issued by Woolworth national headquarters said the company would "abide by local custom" and maintain its segregated policy.[7]

More than 300 people took part on the fourth day. Organizers agreed to spread the sit-in protests to include the lunch counter at Greensboro's Kress store.[7]

As early as one week after the Greensboro sit-in had begun, students in other North Carolina towns launched their own sit-ins. Demonstrations spread to towns near Greensboro, including Winston-Salem, Durham, Raleigh, and Charlotte. Out-of-state towns like Lexington, Kentucky also saw protests.

The movement then spread to other Southern cities including Richmond, Virginia, and Nashville, Tennessee where the students of the Nashville Student Movement had been trained for a sit-in by civil rights activist James Lawson and had already started the process when Greensboro occurred. Although the majority of these protests were peaceful, there were instances where protests became violent.[9] For example, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, tensions rose between blacks and whites and fights broke out.[10] Another city where sit-ins occurred was Jackson, Mississippi. Students from Tougaloo College staged a sit-in on May 28, 1963. The incident is recorded in the autobiography of one of the members in attendance, Anne Moody. Moody described the treatment of the whites who were at the counter when they sat down, as well as the formation of the mob in the store and how they managed to finally leave the store.

As the sit-ins continued, tensions grew in Greensboro and students began a far-reaching boycott of stores that had segregated lunch counters. Sales at the boycotted stores dropped by a third, leading the stores' owners to abandon their segregation policies.[2] Black employees of Greensboro's Woolworth store were the first to be served at the store's lunch counter. This event occurred on Monday, July 25, 1960. The entire Woolworth was desegregated, serving blacks and whites alike, although Woolworth lunch counters in other Tennessee cities, such as Jackson, continued to be segregated until around 1965, despite many protests.[7][11]

Impact[edit]

The A&T Four Statue represents the four A&T freshmen that helped spark the civil rights movement in the South. Ezell Blair (Jibreel Khazan), Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, and David Richmond.

Despite sometimes violent reaction to the sit-ins, these demonstrations eventually led to positive results. For example, the sit-ins received significant media and government attention. When the Woolworth sit-in began, the Greensboro newspaper published daily articles on the growth and impact of the demonstration. The sit-ins made headlines in other cities as well, as the demonstrations spread throughout the Southern states. A Charlotte newspaper published an article on February 9, 1960, describing the state-wide sit-ins and the resulting closures of dozens of lunch counters.[12] Furthermore, on March 16, 1960, President Eisenhower expressed his sympathy for those who were fighting for their human and civil rights. President Eisenhower expressed his concern, saying that he was:

"deeply sympathetic with the efforts of any group to enjoy the rights of equality that they are guaranteed by the Constitution."[13]

In many towns, the sit-ins were successful in achieving the desegregation of lunch counters and other public places. Nashville's students attained citywide desegregation in May, 1960.[citation needed]

The media picked up this issue and covered it nationwide, beginning with lunch counters and spreading to other forms of public accommodation, including transport facilities, art galleries, beaches, parks, swimming pools, libraries, and even museums around the South.[14] The Civil Rights Act of 1964[15] mandated desegregation in public accommodations.

In 1993, a portion of the lunch counter was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution.[16] The International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina, contains four chairs from the Woolworth counter along with photos of the original four protesters, a timeline of the events, and headlines from the media.[citation needed] The street south of the site was renamed February One Place, in commemoration of the date of the first Greensboro sit-in.[17]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b [1][dead link]
  2. ^ a b c "Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-In", Library of Congress. Retrieved November 26, 2010.
  3. ^ First Southern Sit-in, Greensboro NC, Civil Rights Movement Veterans 
  4. ^ "America's First Sit-Down Strike: The 1939 Alexandria Library Sit-In". City of Alexandria. Retrieved August 22, 2009. 
  5. ^ "Kansas Sit-In Gets Its Due at Last; NPR; October 21, 2006". Npr.org. Retrieved 2014-03-25. 
  6. ^ Wolff, Miles. Lunch at the 5 and 10. Revised & expanded. Chicago: Elephant Paperbacks, 1990. ISBN 0929587316.
  7. ^ a b c d e "The Greensboro Chronology", International Civil Rights Center and Museum, Retrieved November 26, 2010.
  8. ^ a b "The Greensboro Four", North Carolina Museum of History. Retrieved November 26, 2010.
  9. ^ Schlosser, James ‘Jim’ (Feb 2, 2009), "Timeline" (news & record), in Prout, Teresa, Greensboro Sit-ins 
  10. ^ Wolff, Miles (1970), Lunch at the Five and Ten, New York: Stein and Day 
  11. ^ "Timeline of civil rights in Tennessee - October 1960 - Civil Rights - A Jackson Sun Special Report". Orig.jacksonsun.com. Retrieved 2014-03-25. 
  12. ^ Prout, Teresa, ed. (Feb 2, 2009), "NC Stores Close Down Counters" (news & record), Greensboro Sit-ins 
  13. ^ Wilkinson, Doris Yvonne (1969), Black Revolt: Strategies of Protest, Berkeley: McCutchan 
  14. ^ Sit-ins Spread Across the South, Civil Rights Movement Veterans 
  15. ^ Civil Rights Act, Find US law, 1964 
  16. ^ Curtis, Mary C (February 19, 2011). "Museum Will Bring African American – Make That 'American' – History to National Mall". Politics Daily. AOL. Archived from the original on February 21, 2011. Retrieved February 21, 2011. 
  17. ^ "Workers unearth bits of urban history at February One Place", News & Record, Sep 9, 2009 

External links[edit]