Ash Wednesday
Oh Well...

Greensboro sit-ins

From the "Peeling the Orange" section of today's Durham  (NC) Herald-Sun:

Franklin McCain, one of four men who staged a famous sit-in against discrimination in Greensboro in 1960, had a very receptive audience this week in Chapel Hill when he spoke to students in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades at Scroggs Elementary.

But he had a tough time relaying one of the fundamental aspects of the story.   

He explained that his group staged a sit-in at the Woolworth's lunch counter in downtown Greensboro.   

He got blank stares.   

"It's kind of like a K-mart," he added. "Don't they have a lunch counter?"   

More blank stares.   

Finally, a teacher piped up, "You know, like a Target?"   

The students seemed to understood that, perhaps thinking of the small cafes that some Target stores have, and a resounding "Oh!" filled the room.

Target? Come on. What about Sutton's on Franklin Street? That's a lunch counter.

We learned more about the Woolworth's sit-ins at the Greensboro Historical Museum a few years ago.  They have a well-explained exhibit  which includes part of the Woolworth's lunch counter (the rest of the counter is at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History). 
[From the Greensboro Historical Museum's website]:

Woolworthsitin This student protest began on February 1, 1960, when four NC A&T freshmen shown in the mural photograph sat down at the downtown Woolworth lunch counter and tried to order something to eat and drink. They were told that people of their race had to stand up at another counter to eat. The young men stayed until the store closed, and students returned to sit-in the next day. This peaceful protest continued for nearly six months. Similar protests sprang up across the South. In July 1960, three local stores changed their policies to allow integrated counters that served people regardless of race or color. The successful protest did change local custom, but legal change, both locally and nationally, came with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The four original protesters were Ezell Blair, Jr., Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond. The museum exhibit features four of the seats from the 1960 Woolworth lunch counter and a detailed time line, along with reproduction photographs and newspaper headlines.

The former Woolworth's store is now the International Civil Rights Center and Museum which has a very interesting, and more detailed history of the sit in.


Ron Hudson

My 7th grade History teacher was one of the protestors as well. As I understood it, he relieved the original protestors at the counter when they needed a break. He has since gone on to represent my home county in the North Carolina Legislature. I remember Dr. Larry Bell with great fondness.


It's funny because in the 1960's these protesters would be seen as trouble makers. Now they are seen as heroes. We talk about these people and how they influenced our future yet most people fail to understand that standing up for what you believe in will not be accepted by most.

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