Greensboro sit-ins

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Greensboro sit-ins
Part of the Civil Rights Movement
Greensboro Four, Feb 1960.jpg
The Greensboro Four: (left to right) David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr., and Joseph McNeil
DateFebruary 1 – July 25, 1960
Location
Caused by
Resulted in
Parties to the civil conflict
Lead figures

Woolworth

KKK member

  • George Dorsett

The Greensboro sit-ins were a series of nonviolent protests in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960,[2] which led to the Woolworth department store chain removing its policy of racial segregation in the Southern United States.[3] While not the first sit-in of the Civil Rights Movement, the Greensboro sit-ins were an instrumental action, and also the most well-known sit-ins of the Civil Rights Movement. They are considered a catalyst to the subsequent sit-in movement.[4] These sit-ins led to increased national sentiment at a crucial period in US history.[5] The primary event took place at the Greensboro, North Carolina, Woolworth store, now the International Civil Rights Center and Museum.

Background[edit]

While the Greensboro sit-in was the most influential and significant sit-in of the Civil Rights Movement, it was not the first. In August 1939, black attorney Samuel Wilbert Tucker organized a sit-in at the then-segregated Alexandria, Virginia, library.[6] In 1942, the Congress of Racial Equality sponsored sit-ins in Chicago, as they did in St. Louis in 1949 and Baltimore in 1952. Also, a 1958 sit-in in Wichita, Kansas was successful in ending segregation at every Dockum Drug Store in Kansas.[7]

Activists' plan[edit]

Days before the Woolworth sit-ins, the Greensboro Four (as they would soon be known) were debating on which way would be the best to get the media's attention. They were Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr., and David Richmond. All were young black students at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.[8] They were all in their freshmen year, and often met in their dorm rooms to discuss what they could do to stand against segregation.[9] They were inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. and his practice of nonviolent protest, and wanted to change the segregational policies of Woolworth in Greensboro, North Carolina. During Christmas vacation of 1959, McNeil attempted to use the Greensboro Greyhound bus station, but was refused. After that event, the future Greensboro Four decided that it was time to take action against segregation.[10] The plan was simple, but effective: the four men would occupy seats at the local Woolworth, ask to be served, and when they were inevitably denied service, they would not leave. They would repeat this process day in and day out, for as long as it would take. Their thinking was that, if they could attract widespread attention to the issue, Woolworth would feel pressured to desegregate.[8]

Events at Woolworth[edit]

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

On February 1, 1960, at 4:30 pm, the four sat down at the lunch counter inside the Woolworth store at 132 South Elm Street in Greensboro.[3] The men, later also known as the A&T Four or the Greensboro Four, had purchased toothpaste and other products from a desegregated counter at the store with no problems, and then were refused service at the store's lunch counter when they each asked for a cup of coffee.[2][11][12] Following store policy, staff refused to serve the black men at the "whites only" counter and store manager Clarence Harris asked them to leave.[13] However, the four freshmen stayed until the store closed that night, and then went back to the North Carolina A&T University campus, where they recruited more students to join them the next day.

The next day, February 2, 1960, more than twenty black students, recruited from other campus groups, joined the sit-in. This group included four women, and they sat with school work to stay busy, as they sat from 11am to 3pm. The group was again refused service, and were harassed by the white customers at the Woolworth store.[14] However, the sit-ins made local news on the second day, with reporters, a TV cameraman and police officers present throughout the day. Back on campus that night, the Student Executive Committee for Justice was organized, and the committee sent a letter asking the president of F.W. Woolworth to "take a firm stand to eliminate discrimination."[15]

On February 3, the number grew to over 60, including students from Dudley High School. An estimated one third of the protesters were women, many of them students from Bennett College, a historically black women's college in Greensboro. White customers heckled the black students, who read books and studied, while the lunch counter staff continued to refuse service.[12] North Carolina's official chaplain of the Ku Klux Klan, George Dorsett, as well as other members of the Klan, were present. The F.W. Woolworth national headquarters said that the company would "abide by local custom" and maintain its segregation policy.[12]

On the February 4, more than 300 people took part. The group now included students from North Carolina A&T University, Bennett College, and Dudley High School, and they filled the entire seating area at the lunch counter. Three students from the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina (now University of North Carolina at Greensboro), Genie Seaman, Marilyn Lott, and Ann Dearsley, also joined the protest. Organizers agreed to expand the sit-in protests to include the lunch counter at Greensboro's Kress store that day.[12] Students, college administrators, and representatives from F.W. Woolworth and Kress met to discuss, but with the stores' refusal to integrate, the meeting was not resolved.[16]

February 5th saw a high tension environment at the Woolworth counter, when 50 white men sat at the counter, in opposition to the protesters, which now included white college students. Again, more than 300 were at the store by 3pm, the police removed two young white customers for swearing and yelling, and police arrested three white patrons before the store closed at 5:30pm. Another meeting between students, college officials, and store representatives took place, and again there was no resolution. The store representatives were frustrated that only certain segregated stores were being protested, and asked for intervention by the college administrators, while some administrators suggested a temporary closure on the counters.[17]

On Saturday February 6th, over 1,400 North Carolina A&T students met in the Harrison Auditorium on campus. They voted to continue the protests and went to the Woolworth store, filling up the store. More than 1,000 protesters and counter-protesters packed themselves into the store by noon. Around 1pm, a bomb threat set for 1:30pm was delivered by call to the store, causing the protesters to head to the Kress store, which immediately closed, along with the Woolworth store.[18]

As early as one week after the Greensboro sit-ins began, students in other North Carolina towns launched their own. Winston-Salem, Durham, Raleigh, Charlotte, and out-of-state towns such as Lexington, Kentucky all saw protests.

The sit-in movement then spread to other Southern cities, including Richmond, Virginia and Nashville, Tennessee, where students of the Nashville Student Movement were trained by civil rights activist James Lawson and had already started the process when Greensboro occurred. Most of these protests were peaceful, but there were instances of violence.[19] In Chattanooga, Tennessee, tensions rose between blacks and whites and fights broke out.[20] In Jackson, Mississippi, students from Tougaloo College staged a sit-in on May 28, 1963, recounted in the autobiography of Anne Moody, a participant. In Coming of Age in Mississippi, Moody describes their treatment from whites who were at the counter when they sat down, the formation of the mob in the store and how they managed finally to leave.[21]

As the sit-ins continued, tensions started growing in Greensboro. Students began a far-reaching boycott of stores with segregated lunch counters. Sales at the boycotted stores dropped by a third, leading their owners to abandon segregation policies.[3] On Monday, July 25, 1960, after nearly $200,000 in losses ($1.7 million today), store manager Clarence Harris asked three black employees to change out of their work clothes and order a meal at the counter. They were, quietly, the first to be served at a Woolworth lunch counter.[22] Most stores were soon desegregated, though in other Tennessee cities, such as Nashville and Jackson, Woolworth's continued to be segregated until around 1965, despite multiple protests.[12][23]

Impact[edit]

The February One monument and sculpture stands on North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University's campus and is dedicated to the actions taken by the Greensboro Four that helped spark the Civil Rights Movement in the South.

Despite the 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 statewide sit-ins and the resulting closures of dozens of lunch counters.[24] Furthermore, on March 16, 1960, President Eisenhower expressed his concern for those who were fighting for their human and civil rights, 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."[25][26] Also, this sit-in was a contributing factor in the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

In many towns, the sit-ins were successful in achieving the desegregation of lunch counters and other public places. Nashville's students, who were already planning their sit-ins and started them a few days after the Greensboro group, attained desegregation of the downtown department store lunch counters in May 1960.[27]

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.[28] The Civil Rights Act of 1964[29] mandated desegregation in public accommodations.

Over 70,000 people took part in the sit-ins. They even spread to northern states such as Ohio and the western state of Nevada. Sit-ins protested about segregated swimming pools, lunch counters, libraries, transport facilities, museums, art galleries, parks and beaches. By simply highlighting such practices, the students can claim to have played a significant part in the history of the Civil Rights Movement.[30]

In 1993, a four-seat portion of the lunch counter was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution.[31] The International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina, contains the full rest of the lunch counter in its original footprint inside the store, 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.[32]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Sit-in Movement". International Civil Rights Center & Museum. Retrieved March 20, 2016.
  2. ^ a b The Greensboro Sit-In, history, Retrieved February 25, 2015
  3. ^ a b c "Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-In", Library of Congress. Retrieved November 26, 2010.
  4. ^ "We'll see sit-in stamp first". greensboro.com (in German). Retrieved February 4, 2018.
  5. ^ First Southern Sit-in, Greensboro NC, Civil Rights Movement Veterans
  6. ^ "America's First Sit-Down Strike: The 1939 Alexandria Library Sit-In". City of Alexandria. Archived from the original on May 28, 2010. Retrieved August 22, 2009.
  7. ^ "Kansas Sit-In Gets Its Due at Last; NPR; October 21, 2006". Npr.org. Retrieved March 25, 2014.
  8. ^ a b "The Greensboroina History". nchistory.web.unc.edu. Retrieved November 14, 2015.
  9. ^ "The Greensboro Chronology | International Civil Rights Center & Museum". www.sitinmovement.org. Retrieved February 14, 2019.
  10. ^ "The Greensboro Chronology | International Civil Rights Center & Museum". www.sitinmovement.org. Retrieved February 14, 2019.
  11. ^ Wolff, Miles. Lunch at the 5 and 10. Revised & expanded. Chicago: Elephant Paperbacks, 1990. ISBN 0929587316.
  12. ^ a b c d e "The Greensboro Chronology", International Civil Rights Center and Museum, Retrieved November 26, 2010.
  13. ^ The Greensboro Four (PDF), North Carolina Museum of History, archived from the original (PDF) on January 25, 2011, retrieved November 26, 2010
  14. ^ "The Greensboro Chronology | International Civil Rights Center & Museum". www.sitinmovement.org. Retrieved February 14, 2019.
  15. ^ "The Greensboro Chronology | International Civil Rights Center & Museum". www.sitinmovement.org. Retrieved February 14, 2019.
  16. ^ "The Greensboro Chronology | International Civil Rights Center & Museum". www.sitinmovement.org. Retrieved February 14, 2019.
  17. ^ "The Greensboro Chronology | International Civil Rights Center & Museum". www.sitinmovement.org. Retrieved February 14, 2019.
  18. ^ "The Greensboro Chronology | International Civil Rights Center & Museum". www.sitinmovement.org. Retrieved February 14, 2019.
  19. ^ Schlosser, James ‘Jim’ (February 2, 2009), "Timeline", in Prout, Teresa (ed.), Greensboro Sit-ins (news & record)
  20. ^ Wolff, Miles (1970), Lunch at the Five and Ten, New York: Stein and Day.
  21. ^ Moody, Anne (1968). "23". Coming of Age in Mississippi. New York: Bantam Dell.
  22. ^ "Civil Rights Greensboro".
  23. ^ "Timeline of civil rights in Tennessee – October 1960 – Civil Rights – A Jackson Sun Special Report". Orig.jacksonsun.com. Retrieved March 25, 2014.
  24. ^ Prout, Teresa, ed. (February 2, 2009), "NC Stores Close Down Counters", Greensboro Sit-ins (news & record)
  25. ^ Wilkinson, Doris Yvonne (1969), Black Revolt: Strategies of Protest, Berkeley: McCutchan
  26. ^ Eisenhower, Dwight D. (1961). "93 The President's News Conference of March 16, 1960.". The Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States. Dwight D. Eisenhower. January 1, 1960, to January 20, 1961. Published by the Office of Federal Register National Archives and Records Service General Services Administration. p. 294.
  27. ^ "The Asheboro Sit-Ins". Notes on the History of Randolph County, NC. January 18, 2013. Retrieved September 4, 2014.
  28. ^ Sit-ins Spread Across the South, Civil Rights Movement Veterans
  29. ^ Civil Rights Act, Find US law, 1964
  30. ^ "Greensboro 1960 – History Learning Site". History Learning Site. Retrieved November 16, 2015.
  31. ^ 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.
  32. ^ "Workers unearth bits of urban history at February One Place", News & Record, September 9, 2009

Bibliography[edit]

  • Wolff, Miles (1990). Lunch at the 5 and 10. Elephant Paperbacks. ISBN 0929587316.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]