Greensboro Sit-In

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“Let’s all sit together, as human beings should.”

Greensboro citizens

The Greensboro Sit-ins were a series of nonviolent protests against racial segregation, beginning on February 1, 1960 in a lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. It was organized by SNCC, which had a large presence in the south.

SNNC

SNCC is an abbreviation for the “Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee,” which was created in April 1960 in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was a driving force in the civil rights struggle. In 1961 and 1963, it planned the Freedom Rides and was instrumental in the March on Washington. It collaborated with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) on the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Ezell Blair, Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil and David Richmond coordinated this gathering (all were African Americans and young students at the University of Greensboro).

Activists Plans

Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., these four men were determined to expose racial segregation and change racist policies. During his Christmas break in 1959, McNeil went to have a hot dog at the Greensboro Greyhound Lines bus station but was refused because of the color of his skin. Following that, the four men decided it was time to act. Enlisting the assistance of Ralph Johns (a local white businessman sympathetic to their cause), they meticulously organized their social action. The A&T Four, often known as the Greensboro Four, devised a straightforward strategy and carefully planned every detail.

The Moment When Four Students Sat Down To Take a Stand

The Greensboro Four went to a Woolworth’s retail store on the afternoon of February 1. The temperature was hot, but the four gentlemen were cozy in their coats and ties. While the business was open to customers, African Americans could not eat there.

They had an explicit policy that said that they would serve anyone except Blacks. The Greensboro Four, on the other hand, purchased simple common items such as a toothbrush and a notebook and retained the receipt as proof. They then took a step forward and with their hearts racing, they sat at the lunch counter and requested coffee.

They were banished to a standing snack bar since the lunch counter was designated for “whites only.” The white server directed them to the standing snack bar. In addition, the personnel refused to serve them. The Greensboro four respectfully asked them to let them be seated. McCain informed the server that he had already served them (by providing the receipts) and that they simply wanted to be serviced.

At the same time, a white lady approached the Greensboro four. They expected her to hurl insults at them but rather she expressed her displeasure with them. When McCain inquired as to the reason for her dissatisfaction, the lady replied that she was disappointed it took them so long to do this. Implying they should have done this sooner.

The store manager then asked them to leave, but they insisted on sitting there while they shopped. The manager contacted his superior, who simply stated that they would soon give up, go away and be forgotten. The Greensboro four stayed there until the shop closed for the day, then returned to campus, where they were greeted as heroes by their classmates.

The following day, on February 2, 1960, more than 20 students joined them at the same café. They were once again refused service and were also harassed by white customers. But they began working in groups to complete their tasks.

The manager of the lunch counter contacted immediately. At the same time, Johns had already informed the local media, where crews rushed to the scene to report the events on television. The cops couldn’t do anything because the Greensboro four paid for their services and didn’t break any restrictions. The media was quick to respond. The Greensboro four remained until the store closed. The images of the Greensboro four were published in the local newspaper, and the protest grew as a result. The pupils addressed a letter to Woolworths’ president,

Dear president, we the undersigned are students at the Negro college in the city of Greensboro. Time and time again we have gone into Woolworths stores in Greensboro. We have bought thousands of items at the hundreds of counters in your stores. Our money was accepted without rancor or discrimination and with politeness towards us when at a long counter just three feet away our money is not acceptable because of the color of our skin. We are asking your company to take a firm stand to eliminate discrimination. We firmly believe that God will give you courage and guidance in solving the problem. Sincerely yours, Student Executive Committee.”

Greensboro sit-ins Quotes

“It’s a feeling that I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to have again. It’s the kind of thing that people pray for. And wish for all their lives and never experience it. And I felt as though I wouldn’t have been cheated out of life had that been the end of my life at that second or that moment.”

Franklin McCain

None of them anticipated being able to walk out of Woolworths that day. They could have been arrested because it was so dangerous. The Greensboro Four’s deed that day was a remarkable act of bravery.

“The first day, four. The second day is probably 16 or 20. It was organic. The mind of its own,” according to Joseph McNeil.

The identical scene played out again on February 3rd and 4th. Protesters began filling seats at the tip of one’s finger. And spilled out onto the walkways from the store. The protest was widely covered in the media over several weeks. Sit-ins began to take place across the country. Soon, dining establishments throughout the South were unified, and by July 1960 (after 5 months), the lunch counter at the Greensboro Woolworths began serving black diners.

“What I learned from that little incident was… don’t you ever, ever stereotype anybody in this life until you at least experience them and have the opportunity to talk to them. I’m even more cognizant of that today – a situation like that – and I’m always open to people who speak differently, who look different, and who came from different places.”
Franklin McCain.

In this way, the Greensboro sit-in served as a model for nonviolent resistance and proclaimed the Civil Rights Movement’s early and surprising success.

Greensboro sit-ins Facts

The Greensboro Four were influenced by Mohandas Gandhi and the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), an interracial American group founded by James Farmer in 1942 to foster better race relations. The death in 1955 of a black little boy, Emmett Till, who reportedly whistled at a white woman in a Mississippi store, inspired the Greensboro Four to act.

Did you know?
The old Woolworth’s lunch counter has been converted into a civil rights center and museum. It has a reconstructed version of the lunch counter where the Greensboro Four sat. A portion of the original counter can be seen at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Greensboro sit-ins Protest

Until February 5th, 300 students participated in the demonstration at Woolworth’s. As well as a few white students from the University of North Carolina’s Woman’s College. Future civil rights leader Julian Bond frequently stated, “The civil rights movement for me began on February 4, 1960.” That is when he came across the title “Greensboro student’s sit-in for a third day” in a newspaper. Wondering if anyone would do that there, he took on the initiative himself. Following that, coverage grew and grew.

Extremely effective T.V. coverage influenced the sit-in movement, which quickly spread to college towns throughout the north and south. Young black and white people, male and female students, joined in various forms of peaceful protest against racism in libraries, beaches, hotels, public areas, and other establishments.

By the end of March 1960, the campaign had spread to 55 cities across 13 states. Even though many restrooms were detained for disrupting the peace, the sit-ins drew increased attention to the civil rights movement as a result of national media coverage.

As a result, by the summer of 1960, Black had access to dining facilities. When many area universities were closed for the summer, college students rushed to Woolworth’s, where four black Woolworth’s employees were among the first to serve.

Greensboro sit-ins Impact

The Greensboro sit-ins of 1960 elicited a wide range of emotions at the time, and they remain an important part of civil rights history. The sit-in movement produced a new sense of pride and power for African Americans. The Greensboro sit-in was a watershed moment in African and American history, ushering in the fight for civil rights. Its nonviolent use inspired the Freedom Riders and others to fight for equal rights in the United States. The public in the Northern, Eastern, and Western states were all affected.

McCain later said:

“The sit-in was not about Frank McCain, or Ezell Blair [Jibreel Khan], or Joe MacNeil sitting down and having a cup of coffee next to a white person. It was much deeper than that. It was about choice. It was about having the ability to say I choose to sit down. Or I choose to drink from that water fountain. I don’t choose black water or white water or colored water. I want water.”

Citations:

  1. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/lessons-worth-learning-moment-greensboro-four-sat-down-lunch-counter-180974087/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greensboro_sit-ins
  3. https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/odyssey/educate/lunch.html
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