On February 1, 1960, four freshman students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro walked into the local Woolworth's store, sat down at the lunch counter and ordered coffee. Following store policy, the lunch counter staff refused to serve the African American students at the "Whites Only" lunch counter. The young men sat quietly all day until the store closed.
The next day the four men returned, accompanied by 25 additional students. By this point, local newspaper and television reported on the peaceful protest. On the third day more than 80 students participated in the sit-in. By the fifth day the protestors numbered in the hundreds and the sit-in spread to a lunch counter at the nearby Kress store, as well. Whites heckled the students and even poured condiments and glasses of water over them as they sat quietly, reading and studying.
Greensboro was not the first sit-in of the Civil Rights Movement, but the spontaneity and open-endedness of the Greensboro students' protest proved inspirational. Sit-in protests quickly spread, first within North Carolina and then throughout the South. Many of the leaders of these lunch counter sit-ins were students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
Within a year, similar peaceful sit-in demonstrations took place in over 100 cities in both the North and the South. At Shaw University in Raliegh, North Carolina, a conference funded by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in April 1960 brought together 126 student delegates from 58 sit-in centers in 12 states, along with delegates from 19 northern colleges and representatives from several prominent national civil rights and student organizations. Out of this conference formed the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced "snick"). SNCC would play a major role in the success of both the lunch counter sit-in movement and the Freedom Rides, which this blog will feature tomorrow.
Learn more about the history of the Civil Rights Movement at your Milwaukee Public Library.