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February 2, 2022

February 1, 1960: Four Black College Students Start the Greensboro Sit-ins

At 4:30 in the afternoon on February 1, 1960, four black college students — Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, David Richmond and Ezell Blair Jr. — sat down at a whites-only lunch counter at an F.W. Woolworth’s in Greensboro, N.C., and politely asked for service. They weren’t served. They nevertheless stayed there until the store closed that evening.

Earlier, the four freshmen, who were enrolled at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, had purchased toothpaste and various school supplies. One of them told UPI: “We believe, since we buy books and papers in the other part of the store, we should get served in this part.”

Clarence L. Harris, the store’s manager, said, “They can just sit there. It’s nothing to me.” But when a larger group of students returned the next day, wire services picked up the story. Civil rights groups began to spread the effort to other college campuses. In the next two weeks, students in 11 cities held lunch counter sit-ins. Additional students joined them over the succeeding weeks and months as sit-in protests spread from North Carolina to other Southern states.

By August 1961, the sit-ins had involved more than 70,000 interracial participants and generated some 3,000 arrests. They continued until the 1964 Civil Rights Act outlawed segregation at lunch counters and other public facilities such as movie theaters.

On July 25, 1960, after sustaining nearly $200,000 in losses ($1.8 million today), store manager Harris asked three black employees to change out of their work clothes and to order a meal at the counter. They were the first African-Americans to be served at the Greensboro Woolworth lunch counter. Most of the chain’s stores in the South were soon desegregated, though in some Tennessee cities, notably Nashville and Jackson, Woolworth’s continued to be segregated until 1965, despite multiple protests.

The Greensboro Four: (left to right) David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell A. Blair, Jr., and Joseph McNeil.

While the Greensboro sit-in proved to be 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, Va., library. 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, Kan., successfully ended segregation at every Dockum Drug Store in the state.

(via Politico)


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