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1960 Twenty-five Years Ago

March 2023
1min read

Four freshmen from the state Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro, North Carolina, went to a local Woolworth’s together on February 1, made several purchases, took seats at the lunch counter, and ordered coffee.

As they expected, being black, they were refused service. But they stayed in their seats until the store closed. The store’s manager told a reporter: “They can just sit there. It’s nothing to me.” The next day they came back. By the fourth day, some whites had joined them. A week later, students in other North Carolina cities were following suit, and within three months, thousands of whites and blacks had taken up this new form of nonviolent protest and were sitting-in at segregated lunch counters, hotels, libraries, churches, movie theaters, and other establishments across the South, and in the North as well. By the end of the summer more than sixteen hundred people had been arrested for taking part in the sit-ins, and blacks were being permitted into myriad places where they had never been allowed before.

The four Greensboro students had been inspired by an educational comic book entitled Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story . It told of the events that began in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, when Rosa Parks had refused to move to the rear of a bus. Her arrest had sparked a successful citywide bus boycott led by King, then a little-known twenty-seven-year-old minister. The Greensboro sit-in not only gave the civil rights movement new momentum but also marked the beginning of widespread student activism and of massive white involvement in the cause of integration.

The Greensboro Woolworth’s gave up segregation three months after the boycott began.

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