the South, a generation that had grown up with segregation was about to demand a
change -- to stand up, by sitting down. On January 31, 1960, a black college
student by the name of Joseph McNeil went to a lunch counter of a Woolworth
Company store in Greensboro, North Carolina.
He was then refused service for being black, so he came back the next day
with three other students, named Franklin McCain, David Richmond, and Ezell
Blair, Jr. from North Carolina A& T University to protest racial segregation
in restaurants by sitting at "white-only" lunch counters while waiting
to be served. They purchased some school supplies, then went to the lunch
counter and asked to be served. They knew they probably would not be. The four
freshmen at the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College were black,
and this lunch counter was segregated. This began the nationwide non-violent
"sit-in" movement to protest racial discrimination.
While protests and boycotts achieved some success in integrating aspects
of education and transportation, other facilities such as theaters, restaurants,
and amusement parks limit or prevent access to blacks, or maintained separate
invariably inferior, facilities for African Americans.
However, prior to this demonstration and between 1943 and 1960, sit-ins
had taken place in Chicago, St. Louis, Baltimore, and at least fifteen cities,
including Nashville, Tennessee. The earlier protests did not gain full attention
until 1960, when the southern civil rights movement gained momentum. When the
sit-ins first began, it did not gain much attention, but after many students
started sitting down at the counters, it gained public attention. Within ten
days the sit-ins spread to 15 southern cities. Nashville, Tennessee became the
center for student nonviolent workshops and directed action led by James Lawson
and Diane Nash. Gordon
Carey, a representative from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), came down
from New York to organize more sit-ins.
Started Because We Were Tired of Waiting for You to Act."-Sit-In
Participant in Chattanooga, TN
Ella Baker of the SCLC contacted students on many college campuses. In two
weeks, students in eleven cities held sit-ins, primarily at Woolworth's and S.H.
Kress stores. The basic plan of the sit-ins was that a group of students would
go to a lunch counter and ask to be served. If they were, they'd move on to the
next lunch counter. If they were not, they would not move until they had been.
If they were arrested, a new group would take their place. The students always
remained nonviolent and respectful. Students in Nashville had some
"Do's" and "Don'ts" during sit-ins:
Do show yourself friendly on the counter at all times. Do sit straight and
always face the counter. Don't strike back, or curse back if attacked. Don't
laugh out. Don't hold conversations. Don't block entrances.
When an article in the New York Times drew attention to the students' protest,
they were joined by more students, both black and white, and students across the
nation were inspired to launch
similar protests. There was the
faith and support of blacks and whites in Greensboro, such as the three young
white women who were expelled from then Greensboro Woman’s College (now UNCG)
for sitting down with the protesters on the fourth day. And there was white
clothier Ralph Johns, the February One strategist who actually gave the students
the money to make purchases. Mid way through the year of 1961, there were over
60,000 student participants and there were over 2,500 arrests. Because of the
sit-ins, Nashville became the first major city in the South to allow blacks and
whites to eat together in public places. In less than two months, the Sit-In
Movement spread across the country, changing the South forever. The Greensboro
four showed that nonviolent direct action and youth could be a very useful
weapon in the war against segregation.