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On February 1, 1960, four African American college students sat down at the lunch counter at Woolworth’s Department Store in downtown Greensboro and asked to be served. They were refused and thus was launched the sit-in movement that would spread throughout North Carolina and the South. Sit-ins by college students over the next several months forced the integration of lunch counters and other businesses throughout the region. Local media attention led to national coverage and similar sit-ins began elsewhere in the country, sparking a national call to battle by civil rights activists who endorsed the nonviolent form of protest to demonstrate society’s inequities for blacks.
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The four freshmen students who initiated the first sit-in were: Ezell Blair, Jr. (later known as Jibreel Khazan), Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond. Students at nearby North Carolina A&T State University, they were prepared for the consequences of their actions. The four young men stayed at the counter without being served until it closed at 5:00 P.M. on the first day and returned as soon as it opened the next, returning until the local government took steps to resolve the problem. The determination of the Greensboro sit-in participants, which eventually numbered in the hundreds, was remarkable. The protest lasted six months before change was effected in the local community’s tradition of segregation at some establishments. In April 1960 the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), an outgrowth of the sit-in movement, organized at Shaw University in Raleigh.
The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was established in 1942 to organize local leaders to push for equal rights for black citizens. CORE used the Greensboro sit-in movement as a catalyst to facilitate other sit-ins and peaceful protests in Durham and other North Carolina cities. The demonstrations, together with similar protests from throughout the South, slowly led to changes in local attitudes. Nationally, the ultimate consequence of these and other protests were the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, both of which assured the legal rights of blacks.
William H. Chafe, Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Black Struggle for Freedom (1980)
Miles Wolff, Lunch at the Five and Ten: The Greensboro Sit-ins: A Contemporary History (1970)
Hal Sieber, Holy Ground: Significant Events in the Civil Rights-Related History of the African-American Communities of Guilford County, North Carolina, 1771-1995 (1995)
Howard E. Covington Jr. and Marion A. Ellis, eds., The North Carolina Century: Tar Heels Who Made a Difference, 1900-2000 (2002)
Greensboro News & Record Sit-Ins website: http://www.sitins.com/
International Civil Rights Center & Museum: http://www.sitinmovement.org/
At the Woolworth lunch counter, 1960.