A sit-in or sit-down is a form of direct action that involves one or more people occupying an area for a protest, often to promote political, social, or economic change. The protestors gather conspicuously in a space or building, refusing to move unless their demands are met. The often clearly visible demonstrations are intended to spread awareness among the public, or disrupt the goings-on of the protested organisation. Lunch counter sit-ins were a nonviolent form of protest used to oppose segregation during the civil rights movement, and often provoked heckling and violence from those opposed to their message.
Civil rights movement
The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) conducted sit-ins as early as the 1940s. Ernest Calloway refers to Bernice Fisher as "Godmother of the restaurant 'sit-in' technique." In August 1939, African-American attorney Samuel Wilbert Tucker organized the Alexandria Library sit-in at the then-racial segregated library. Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) labor delegates had a brief, spontaneous lunch counter sit-in during their 1947 Columbus, Ohio convention.
In one of the earliest use of sit-ins against racism, followers of Father Divine and the International Peace Mission Movement joined with the Cafeteria Workers Union, Local 302, in September 1939 to protest racially unfair hiring practices at New York's Shack Sandwich Shops, Inc. According to the New York Times for September 23, 1939, on Thursday between 75 and 100 followers showed up at the restaurant at Forty-first Street and Lexington Avenue, where most of the strike activity has been concentrated, and groups went into the place, purchased five-cent cups of coffee, and conducted what might be described as a kind of customers' nickel sit down strike. Other patrons were unable to find seats."
In May 1942, James Farmer, Jr., an organizer for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, led a group of 27 people to protest the racially discriminatory no-service policy of the Jack Spratt Diner on 47th Street in Chicago. Each seating area in the diner was taken by groups that included at least one black person. The peaceful patrons, several from the campus of the nearby University of Chicago, then tried to order; all were refused. The police were called, but when they arrived they told the management that no laws were being broken, so no arrests were made. The diner closed for the night but thereafter, according to periodic checks made by CORE activists, it no longer enforced its discriminatory policy.
With the encouragement of Melvin B. Tolson and Farmer, students from Wiley and Bishop Colleges organized the first sit-in in Texas in the rotunda of the Harrison County Courthouse in Marshall. This sit-in directly challenged the oldest White Citizens Party in Texas and would culminate in the reversal of Jim Crow laws in the state and the desegregation of postgraduate studies in Texas by the Sweatt v. Painter (1950) verdict. Sit-ins were an integral part of the nonviolent strategy of civil disobedience and mass protests that eventually led to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which ended legally sanctioned racial segregation in the United States and also passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that struck down many racially motivated barriers used to deny voting rights to non-whites.
1955 Baltimore, Maryland
One of the earliest lunch counter sit-ins of the Civil Rights Movement was started by a group of Morgan State College (now University) students and the Baltimore chapter of CORE. Their goal was to desegregate Read's drug stores. The peaceful impromptu sit-in lasted less than one half an hour and the students were not served. They left voluntarily and no one was arrested. After losing business from the sit-in and several local protests, two days later the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper ran a story featuring Arthur Nattans, Sr., then President of Read's who was quoted saying, "We will serve all customers throughout our entire stores, including the fountains, and this becomes effective immediately". As a result, 37 Baltimore-area lunch counters became desegregated.
1957 Durham, North Carolina
At another early sit-in, the "Royal Seven," a group of three women and four men from Durham, North Carolina, sat in at the Royal Ice Cream Parlor on June 23, 1957, to protest practices of segregation. The activists were arrested and charged with trespassing. Their efforts are now recognized via historical markers in Durham. They went to court three times; each case ended in their being found guilty.
1958 Wichita and Oklahoma City
This sit-in for the purpose of integrating segregated establishments began on July 19, 1958, in Wichita, Kansas, at Dockum Drugs, a store in the old Rexall chain. In early August, the drugstore became integrated, then remainder of Dockum stores in all of Kansas. A few weeks later on August 19, 1958, in Oklahoma City, a nationally recognized sit-in at the Katz Drug Store lunch counter occurred. The Oklahoma City Sit-in Movement was led by NAACP Youth Council leader Clara Luper, a local high school teacher, and young local students, including Luper's eight-year-old daughter, who suggested the sit-in be held. The group quickly desegregated the Katz Drug Store lunch counters. It took several more years, but she and the students, using the tactic, integrated all of Oklahoma City's eating establishments. Today, in downtown Wichita, Kansas, a statue depicting a waitress at a counter serving people honors this pioneering sit-in.
1960 Greensboro and Nashville
Following the Oklahoma City sit-ins, the tactic of non-violent student sit-ins spread. The Greensboro sit-ins at a Woolworth's in Greensboro, North Carolina, on February 1, 1960, launched a wave of anti-segregation sit-ins across the South and opened a national awareness of the depth of segregation in the nation. Within weeks, sit-in campaigns had begun in nearly a dozen cities, primarily targeting Woolworth's and S. H. Kress and other stores of other national chains.
The largest and best-organized of these campaigns were the Nashville sit-ins, whose groundwork was already underway before the Greensboro events. They involved hundreds of participants, and led to the successful desegregation of Nashville lunch counters. Most of the participants in the Nashville sit-ins were college students, and many, such as Diane Nash, James Bevel, Bernard Lafayette, and C. T. Vivian, went on to lead, strategize, and direct almost every aspect of the 1960s civil rights movement. The students of the historically black colleges and universities in the city played a critical role in implementing the Nashville sit-ins.
1963 Flagstaff Arizona
The NAACP recruited 10 high school and middle school students from Flagstaff Junior High School and Flagstaff High School to protest the refusal of the El Charro Cafe to serve a bus load of Negro tourists from New Jersey. Shirley Sims, a 14-year-old member of the NAACP Youth Corp at Flagstaff Junior High School, accepted the invitation to participate in a nonviolent sit-in demonstration. Each of the youth members were given $5 with the instructions to go inside and sit down. If they were able to order a meal they would pay for it, if not they would sit there. Reportedly, none of the members were served. Joseph Watkins, an official of the Arizona Branch of the NAACP, reported to the Flagstaff City Council that none of the youths had been served and that there had been no violence. Watkins also stated that unless the restaurant had a change in policy, more sit ins would be staged, "but whatever methods we employ or encourage will be peaceful." Simms stated in an Arizona Daily Sun article  in 2017 that, "it wasn't scary because a lot of the people who frequented that restaurant were our teachers, and they encouraged us."
1961 Rock Hill, South Carolina
The Friendship Nine was a group of African American men who went to jail after staging a sit-in at a segregated McCrory's lunch counter in Rock Hill, South Carolina in 1961. The group gained nationwide attention because they followed the Nashville student's strategy of not bailing themselves out of jail and called it "Jail, No Bail", which lessened the huge financial burden civil rights groups were facing as the sit-in movement spread across the South. They became known as the Friendship Nine because eight of the nine men were students at Rock Hill's Friendship Junior College. They are sometimes referred to as the Rock Hill Nine.
1962 University of Chicago, Illinois
In January 1962, Bernie Sanders, then a student at the University of Chicago, helped lead a sit-in in protesting university president George Wells Beadle's segregated campus housing policy. "We feel it is an intolerable situation, when Negro and white students of the university cannot live together in university-owned apartments," Sanders told a crowd of about 200 students. After several days of protests, Beadle met with students to form a commission to investigate discrimination.
Disability rights movement
1935 New York City
The League of the Physically Handicapped in New York City was formed in May 1935 to protest discrimination by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The Home Relief Bureau of New York City stamped applications by physically handicapped applicants with "PH", which stood for "physically handicapped". Marked as "unemployable", they were denied access to WPA-created jobs. To protest this, members of the League held a sit-in at that Home Relief Bureau for nine days beginning on May 29, 1935, and a weekend sit-in at the WPA headquarters, also in New York City, in June 1935. These actions eventually led to the creation of 1,500 jobs for physically handicapped workers in New York City in 1936.
1972 New York City
An early version of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was vetoed by President Richard Nixon in October 1972. Later in 1972, Disabled in Action demonstrated in New York City with a sit-in protesting this veto. Led by Judith Heumann, eighty activists staged this sit-in on Madison Avenue, stopping traffic.
1977 San Francisco
Initially Joseph Califano, U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, refused to sign meaningful regulations for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which was the first U.S. federal civil rights protection for people with disabilities. After an ultimatum and deadline, demonstrations took place in ten U.S. cities on April 5, 1977, including the beginning of the 504 Sit-in at the San Francisco Office of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. This sit-in, led by Judith Heumann and organized by Kitty Cone, lasted until May 4, 1977, a total of 25 days, with more than 150 people refusing to leave. It is the longest sit-in at a federal building to date. Joseph Califano signed the regulations on April 28, 1977.
On June 1, 1955 in Door County, Wisconsin, Mrs. Victor Baker sat on a chair over three charges of dynamite, and later moved to her car parked near the dynamite. She blocked the construction of a state highway for 17 hours as a protest over the failure of the county government to pay her and her husband the entirety of the amount owed for the additional right-of-way taken from her home and orchard along the construction route. The county had planned to pay a week later, after the state sent the funds. On the morning of June 2, the county highway commissioner came by with a check for an additional $1,500 and she ended the protest.
1969 Marlene Dixon
In 1969 there was a sit-in at the University of Chicago to protest the firing of feminist sociology professor Marlene Dixon. On February 12, 1969, a faculty committee chaired by Hanna H. Gray, Associate Professor of History, concluded that no violation of normal appointment procedures had occurred, but recommended that Dixon be offered a one-year terminal reappointment since the resolution of her status had been delayed by the controversy surrounding the decision; Dixon refused. On February 15, the protestors still sitting-in voted to stop. In March 1969, at the decision of University disciplinary committees, forty-two students involved in the Administration Building sit-in were expelled, eighty-one were suspended, and three were placed on probation.
A "Statement on the University of Chicago sit-in" was included in the feminist anthology Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings From The Women's Liberation Movement (edited by Robin Morgan, published in 1970); this statement refers to the Marlene Dixon sit-in.
1970 Ladies' Home Journal
Gun control lobby
2016 United States House of Representatives
The sit-in began on June 22, 2016, when members of the House Democratic Caucus declared their intention to remain on the floor of the United States House of Representatives until its Republican Speaker, Paul Ryan, allowed votes on gun safety legislation in the aftermath of the Orlando nightclub shooting.
A group of the Democrats ultimately occupied the floor through the night, only leaving on the afternoon of June 23. None of the measures demanded by the occupying members were given a vote.
LGBT rights movement
On April 25, 1965, the first of two sit-ins occurred at the popular Dewey's Restaurant in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was one of the earliest demonstrations advocating for the LGBT community in United States history. Three unidentified teenagers and approximately 150 supporters walked into the Dewey's location at 219 South 17th Street, refusing to leave in the name of civil rights. This initial sit-in was in response to Dewey's recently implemented discriminatory policy claiming it would not serve “homosexuals,” “masculine women,” “feminine men,” or “persons wearing nonconformist clothing.” Philadelphia police arrested the three teenagers, which led to further grass-roots action. Clark Polak, president of the local Janus Society, extended support to the protesters. Members of the Janus Society and other supporters circulated approximately 1500 flyers throughout the local area over the next five days.
On May 2, 1965, protesters staged a second sit-in at Dewey's, although this time there were no arrests. Soon after the second sit-in, Dewey's Restaurant reversed their discriminatory policy. The Dewey's sit-ins helped continue the path towards equal rights for many LGBT people in the United States.
1966 New York
On April 21, 1966 gay activists of the Mattachine Society of New York (MSNY) conducted a "Sip-In" at Julius' Bar at 10th Street. This established the right of gay people to be served in licensed premises in New York. This action helped clear the way for gay premises with state liquor licenses.
2016 Budapest, Hungary
Eco-protesters occupied the area of the Kertem (Városliget, Budapest, Hungary) for a protest against the building plans in Városliget (City Park, Budapest).
The Azadi March (Freedom March) led by Imran Khan of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), and Inqilab March (Revolution March) led by Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri of Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) are political, aiming at a probe of election rigging by Nawaz Sharif, as well as restoration of "true democracy and social, political and economical reforms." The Azadi March started on 14 August 2014 and ended on 17 December 2014. It is considered to be the longest-lasting public sit-in in Pakistan's history. Concepcion Picciotto's sit-in was the more long-lasting sit-in, but on an individual level.
During apartheid a number of sit-in protests against the country's policy of racial segregation were staged in South African embassies in the United States. In post-apartheid South Africa two notable sit-ins were the occupation of South African universities to protest high tuition during the FeesMustFall protests and the Greenmarket Square refugee sit-in to protest for the resettlement of refugees to third countries due to xenophobia.
The Welsh Language Society's first public protest took place in February 1963 in Aberystwyth town centre where members pasted posters on the post office in an attempt to be arrested and go to trial. When it became apparent that they would not be arrested for the posters, they then moved to Pont Trefechan in Aberystwyth, where around seventy members and supporters held a sit-in blocking road traffic for half an hour.
In 1968 a sit-in was held at the news and television studio and the newsroom department of the BBC at Broadway, Cardiff, by members of the Welsh Language Society. The sit-in was calling for the BBC to use more Welsh.
A dharna (Hindi: धरना; Urdu: دهرنا) is a non-violent sit-in protest, which may include a fast undertaken at the door of an offender, especially a debtor, in India as a means of obtaining compliance with a demand for justice, state response of criminal cases, or payment of a debt. It was a popular form of protest during the Indian independence movement and part of Mahatma Gandhi's satyagraha form of civil disobedience and protest.
In India, there are designated places for conducting Dharna, and a permission is required for it. Often, those practicing dharna break the permission leading to clashes with law enforcement.
Dharna generally refers to fixing one's mind on an object. It refers to whole-heartedly pledging toward an outcome or to inculcating a directed attitude. Dharna is consciously and diligently holding a point of view with the intent of achieving a goal.
The word originates from the Sanskrit word dharnam. The Shaheen Bagh protest was a sit-in peaceful protest, led by women, that began in response to the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in both houses of the Parliament of India on 11 December 2019 and the ensuing police intervention against students at Jamia Millia Islamia who were opposing the Amendment. Protesters agitated not only against the citizenship issues of the CAA, National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR), but also against police brutality, unemployment, poverty and for women's safety. Mainly consisting of Muslim women, the protesters at Shaheen Bagh, since 14 December 2019, blocked a road[d] in New Delhi using non-violent resistance for 101 days until 24 March 2020.
In Pakistan, the term was first used in 1958 by Abdul Qayyum Khan against the Prime Minister Feroze Khan's administration to remove his President Iskander Mirza but its effective usage was made by Naeem Siddiqui proposed to use dharna politics for obtaining objectives and latter on Qazi Hussain Ahmed and Jammat e Islami organised dharna in Pakistan in 1993, Fazl Ur Rehman, Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Safdar awan and other political and religious leaders are now attempting to use this strategy for their purposes.
- Bed-In, peace campaigns by John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1969
- Human Be-In
- Occupation (protest)
- Occupy movement
- Picketing (protest)
- Raasta roko
- Sitdown strike
- Women's War Nigeria, 1920-30
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Eight Negro Demonstrators is a disciplinary cell at the York County Prison Camp accepted and ate second helpings Monday of the full meal given every third day to prisoners on bread and water.
- Scoggins, Michael, Rawlinson David. "Rock Hill, Jail No Bail & The Friendship Nine". Friendship Jr. College 445 Allen St. Rock Hill, South Carolina. Archived from the original on 17 November 2011. Retrieved 21 October 2011."(..) The first man tried was Charles Taylor, the Friendship student from New Jersey. Taylor was tried, found guilty, convicted, and sentenced to $100 fine or 30 days hard labor on the York County Prison Farm. The protesters' attorney, an African-American lawyer from Sumter named Ernest A. Finney, then asked the judge to let Taylor's trial be used as a basis for the other nine and the judge agreed. The other nine were then tried, found guilty, and sentenced to the same punishment. Taylor was concerned about possibly losing his athletic scholarship at Friendship, so with the assistance of the NAACP, he paid his bail and was released. The NAACP offered to pay the bail for the remaining nine protesters but they refused, and on February 2, they began serving out their 30-day sentences on the county prison farm. After beginning their sentence on the county farm, the nine protesters were quickly given the appellation "Friendship Nine" by the press, and the case became famous nationwide. Motorcades of other protesters and supporters converged on the prison, and members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) came to Rock Hill and demonstrated; they too were arrested, jailed and refused bail. Over the course of the next year further demonstrations and arrests followed in Rock Hill, as well as in other cities throughout the United States. Protesters across the country adopted the "jail no bail" policy implemented by the Nashville students and the Friendship Nine, and served out their jail sentences rather than helping to subsidize a system that supported segregation and inequality. These acts of heroism by the Friendship Nine and others helped to spur even larger protests like the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963 and the famous march from Selma to Montgomery in March 1965. (..)"
- "Jail, No Bail' Idea Stymied Cities' Profiting From Civil Rights Protesters". South Carolina ETV's "Carolina Stories.". The PBS NewsHour. Retrieved 21 October 2011."The 'Jail, No Bail' strategy became a new tactic in the fight for civil rights. Documentary produced by South Carolina ETV documenting the key moment in civil rights history." (Video and Audio)
- "Jail, No Bail". Carolina Stories. South Carolina ETV. Archived from the original on 19 December 2011. Retrieved 21 October 2011."(..) In previous sit-ins across the South, protestors were arrested, processed by the police, fined and then released, creating a dubious revenue stream from which many municipalities easily profited. But when the Friendship students went before the judge, they chose to serve their time behind bars. For the first time, not only did the city not collect its $100 per person, it actually had to pay to house and feed the men. (..) Word of their action spread like wildfire, receiving national media attention, including the New York Times. The "Jail, No Bail" strategy became the new tactic that helped galvanize the civil rights protest movement. (..)"
- Hartford, Bruce. "Rock Hill SC, "Jail-No-Bail" Sit-ins (Feb-Mar)". The Civil Rights Movement Archive. Westwind Writers Inc. Retrieved 21 October 2011."(..) At the October 1960 SNCC strategy conference in Atlanta, some activists argue for "Jail-No-Bail" tactics. They take a Gandhian position that paying bail or fines indicates acceptance of an immoral system and validates their own arrests. And by serving their sentences, they dramatize the injustice, intensify the struggle, and gain additional media coverage. There is also a practical component to "Jail-No-Bail." The Movement has little money and most southern Blacks are poor. It is hard to scrape up bail money, and sit-in struggles are faltering — not from lack of volunteers to risk arrest — but from lack of money to bail them out. Moreover, paying fines provides the cops with financial resources that are then used to continue suppressing the freedom struggle. By refusing bail, they render meaningless the no-money-for-bail barrier and by serving time they put financial pressure on local authorities who have to pay the costs of incarcerating them. (..)"
- "The Friendship Nine / January 31, 1961". Herald Online. February 22, 2004. Retrieved December 1, 2010.
They were students at Friendship College and called themselves the Friendship Nine. The members of this group were James Wells, William "Dub" Massey, Robert McCullough, John Gaines, William "Scoop" Williamson, Willie McLeod, Thomas Gaither, Clarence Graham, Charles Taylor and Mack Workman.[dead link]
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|Wikiquote has quotations related to Sit-in.|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sit-ins.|
- Award Winning Documentary: February One tells the inspiring story surrounding the 1960 Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins that helped revitalize the Civil Rights Movement
- "Sit-In: A Tactical Analysis", By Aaron Kreider – Essay based on research on student sit-ins.
- Almost-Forgotten History – Story of the Wichita Dockum sit-ins
- Civil Rights Movement Archive ~ History, personal stories, and photos of the Freedom Movement
- Sit-ins: Atlanta, Georgia, Civil Rights Digital Library.
- Sit-ins: Greensboro, North Carolina, Civil Rights Digital Library.
- Sit-ins: Nashville, Tennessee, Civil Rights Digital Library.