History Timeline 1960's

Photo above: Astronaut John Glenn pictured above with President John F. Kennedy looking inside the Mercury Space Capsule in 1962. Courtesy National Archives. Right: Soyuz TMA-7 Spacecraft. Courtesy NASA.

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U.S. Timeline - The 1960s

Civil Rights and Turmoil

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  • Timeline

  • 1960 - Detail

    February 1, 1960 - Four black college students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro, North Carolina stage a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth lunch counter, protesting their denial of service. This action caused a national campaign, waged by seventy-thousand students, both white and black, over the next eight months, in sit-ins across the nation for Civil Rights.

    Greensboro Sit-in 1960

    The challenge of Civil Rights was ongoing in the early days of 1960 with segregation policies still in place throughout the southern states of the United States. These policies, i.e. segregated lunch counters at large department and other stores, including Woolworth's, the long standing chain founded in 1879, were beginning to be on the forefront of peaceful protest. In 1958, a sit-in at the Dockum Drug Store in Wichita, Kansas had been successful in ending the segregation policies at that chain. On the day of February 1, 1960, with President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his last year in office, four students (Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair, Jr., and David Richmond) freshmen from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University sat down on four seats of the sixty-six seat lunch counter. They were refused service. It was a whites only location.

    The protest had been prompted by a refusal of service to Joseph McNeil, later Major General in the United States Air Force, when he tried to buy a hot dog at the Greyhound Bus Terminal. The four men decided that it was time to use the nonviolent protests urged by Martin Luther King to change the Woolworth policy toward black men and women. They would sit at the counter at the Greensboro store and ask for service. If refused, they would continue the practice each day until Woolworth's changed its policy.

    After buying toothpaste at the desegrated purchase counter of the store on February 1, 1960, the four men sat down at the segregated section of the lunch counter at 4:30 p.m. and asked for a cup of coffee. They were refused and told to go to the other desegregated end of the counter. The store manager asked them to leave, but his supervisor suggested that the police not be called, and that they would leave on their own. The four men stayed until the store closed, then planned to return the next day.

    On February 2, 1960, twenty-nine students, including four women, asked for service again and were refused. They remained at the counter, engaged in school work, from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., at times harassed by customers for the protest. Local news and police arrived, but there was no confrontation. That night, the students wrote a letter to the President of Woolworth's, asking for an end to the policy.

    "Dear Mr. President: We the undersigned are students at the Negro college in the city of Greensboro. Time and time again we have gone into Woolworth 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 colour of our skins...... 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."

    The next day, February 3, the protest grew to sixty-three students, including women from Bennett College and high school students from Dudley High School. February 4 the number was three hundred and it was decided to expand the protest to the Kress Co. store in town. Tensions grew on February 5 when fifty white customers sat at the counter in contest with the three hundred protesters, which now included white students. The protests grew to one thousand students on February 6. Demonstrations were halted on February 7 as students waited for the store to reply to their demands for rightful desegregation. The stores agreed to negotiate, but only offered minimal changes.

    Over the next six months, protests continued at segregated lunch counters throughout the south, in the cities of Winston-Salem, Durham, Raleigh, Charlotte, Richmond, Lexington, and Nashville. In Greensboro, students began to boycott the stores in question after forty-five were arrested upon harsher segregation policies passed by the city, causing one third of the revenue, $200,000, of the stores to cease. On July 25, 1960, with a salary reduction due to those losses, Clarence Harris, the store manager at the Greensboro Woolworth's, asked four black employees; Geneva Tisdale, Susie Morrison, Anetha Jones, and Charles Bess, to go to the counter and order a meal. They became the first black customers to gain service.

    Most stores ceased segregation policies due to these protests, although some, including a Woolworth's in Jackson, Tennessee, did not do so until 1965, after the Civil Rights Act preventing this practice was passed in 1964.

    Press Coverage, Greensboro Record

    Woolworth Made Target for Demonstration Here, February 2, 1960

    A group of 20 Negro students from A&T College occupied luncheon counter seats, without being served, at the downtown F.W. Woolworth Co. store late this morning - starting what they declared would be a growing movement.

    The group declared double that number will take places at the counters tomorrow.

    Employees of Woolworth did not serve the group and they sat from 10:30 a.m. until after noon. White customers continued to sit and get service.

    Clarence Harris, Woolworth manager, replied "No comment" to all questions concerning "sit-down" move about Woolworth custom, and about what he planned to do.

    Today's 20-man action followed appearance at 4:30 p.m. yesterday of four freshman from Scott Hall at A&T who sat down and stayed, without service, until the store closed at 4:30 p.m.

    Student spokesmen said they are seeking luncheon counter service, and will increase their numbers daily until they get it.

    Today's group came in at 10:30 a.m. Each made a small purchase one counter over from the luncheon counter, then sat in groups of three or four as spaces became vacant.

    There was no disturbance and there appeared to be no conversation except among the groups. Some students pulled out book and appeared to be studying.

    The group today wrote to the president of Woolworth asking "a firm stand to eliminate this discrimination," and signed the letter as members of the Student Executive Committee for Justice.

    Spokesmen Franklin McLain and Ezell Blair Jr. stated that the group is seeking luncheon counter service and will continue its push "several days, several weeks, .. until something is done."

    Both declared the movement is a student one, with no backing from National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. They said they expect they could count on NAACP backing if needed. The move is not school connected, they added, but they hope to encourage more students to participate and hope that Bennett College students will join.

    Four leaders, who were at Woolworths yesterday and again today, were named as McLain, of Washington; Blair of Greensboro; David Richmond, Greensboro, and Joseph McNeill, Wilmington, all freshmen. They said today's group came chiefly from Scott Hall at the college.

    Blair declared that Negro adults "have been complacent and fearful." He declared "It is time for someone to wake up and change the situation ... and we decided to start here."

    McLain said no economic boycott is planned. "We like to spend our money here, but we want to spend it at the lunch counter as well as the counter next to it."

    Dr. George C. Simkins Jr., head of the local chapter of NAACP, said that organization had no knowledge of the movement prior to its arising spontaneously. He said the group is 100 per cent behind the idea, and "if any legal action arises as a result, the NAACP is prepared to back the group."

    Lunch Counters Integrated Here, July 25, 1960

    Voluntary Move Launched Today By Two Stores

    Greensboro, where lunch counter sit-in demonstrations were started by Negro students Feb. 1 and spread to other cities of the South, broke with segregated service early this afternoon as Woolworth and Kress stores opened their lunch counters to Negro customers on a sitdown basis.

    The departure from previous company policies was a voluntary action on part of the firms involved and the result of a number of conferences between store officials and members of the Greensboro Citizens Assn., a group of business and professional leaders from the Negro community. Previously the two firms had sold Negroes merchandise at counters elsewhere in the store but had denied them sit-down service at lunch counters.

    The Mayor's Advisory Committee on Community Relations, which failed to effect an agreement on the sit-in problem following a month of negotiations in the spring, served in an advisory capacity during recent discussions.

    Thus Greensboro, which experienced intensive picketing of stores in the two months after negotiations broke down April 1 and intermittent picketing since colleges closed for the summer vacation, became the third city in North Carolina to break with tradition and serve Negroes on the same basis as whites at lunch counters. Winston-Salem was the first city in the state to begin integration of lunch counters several weeks ago. Charlotte followed earlier this month.

    Dr. Hobart Jarrett, president of the Greensboro Citizens Assn., commenting on the action by the stores, said, "We are pleased to have had the opportunity to work co-operatively with the mayor's committee and the operators on this matter which is so significant to our city. We appreciate the good manner in which the agreement was reached."

    Integration of lunch counters was accomplished without prior publicity. Small groups from the Negro community went to the stores about 2 p.m., were seated at counters, requested service, received it, ate and left.

    Although only two firms were involved in today's activity, possibility was seen that other stores in the city, which serve Negroes at other counters, would follow the lead of the pioneering firms and open their food-serving counters to Negroes before fall.

    Integration of counters came less than three weeks before trial of 45 students from A&T College, including two white girls from Bennett, in Guilford Superior Court on charges of trespassing at Kress store. The charges were brought April 22 at the height of activity on part of students after mayor's committee negotiations failed.

    With the exception of brief picketing in shopping centers, activities were confined to the downtown area.

    The voluntary action of part of the two Greensboro firms was expected to forestall resumption of picketing activities by students when they return to campuses here in the fall.

    Also expressing satisfaction that the agreement had been reached, E.R. Zane, chairman of the mayor's committee, said, "The problem has been purely a moral and economic one, since no legal basis exists for requiring these private business to serve anyone other than those they choose."

    "It has been my observation that the patient and persistent recognition of the situation has permitted individual analysis of the issues by both operators and students. To a commendable extent the events of today and tomorrow therefore will not be the unthinking reflection of slogans and precast concepts but will be the honest attempts of individuals to act according to the finest that is within them. Greensboro citizens can be counted on to accept with tolerance and to understand actions taken in such a spirit."

    Although sit-in demonstrations started in Greensboro, the city has not experienced the violence which has occurred in other cities of the South to which the move spread.

    The sit-ins began Monday afternoon, Feb. 1, as four A&T youths requested lunch counter service at Woolworth in the 100 block of South Elm Street and were denied. Their number increased, students returned the next day. By mid-week the sit-ins spread to Kress in the 200 block of South Elm Street. A number of white youths also had appeared on the scene to heckle the Negro groups.

    Woolworth and Kress closed their stores Feb. 6 as the situation reached a critical point. Students agreed to a two-week "cooling off" period, at the conclusion of which they expressed willingness to submit to negotiation their contentions that they should receive the same service at lunch counters as white patrons if they were sold goods at other counters of the stores.

    Shortly thereafter stores reopened their lunch counters but, in line with their agreement, students did not resume their sitdowns. A week after the agreement, Mayor George H. Roach appointed his committee, made up of three representatives each from city council, chamber of commerce and merchants association.

    After more than a month of conferences held by the committee with heads of stores having lunch counters and other merchandise counters and with student and other Negro leaders, the committee announced that no agreement could be reached.

    Picketing by A&T and Bennett College students began immediately with white youths setting up lines to picket the Negroes. Woolworth closed its counter again and used it for display of merchandise. Kress also closed for a brief period but reopened with a chain across the entry to the luncheonette area. Woolworth resumed use of its lunch counter in early May.

    International Civil Rights Center and Museum

    On February 1, 2010, the fiftieth anniversary of the refusal of service, the International Civil Rights Center and Museum opened within the Woolworth's store in Greensboro, North Carolina.

    The thirty thousand square foot museum is usually open from Monday to Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. There is a charge for visitation and tours.

    Photo above: Montage of (left) statue to the four students known as February 1, 2001 on the campus of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, 2002, cewatkin. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons CC3.0; (background) Lunch counter at the Greensboro Woolworth's, now the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, 2017, Carol Highsmith. Courtesy Library of Congress. Photo below: Woolworth's store in Greensboro, North Carolina, 2017, Carol Highsmith. Courtesy Library of Congress. Info source: International Civil Rights Center and Museum; University of Michigan Library; Dwight D. Eisenhower Papers; Library of Congress; pbs.org; Greensboro Record; UNC Greensboro; Wikipedia Commons.

    Woolworth's Greensboro Sit-in

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