Landmark Sit-Ins Before Woolworth’s

Durham pastor and civil rights leader Douglas E. Moore gives communion to five of the local youths who sat-in at the Royal Ice Cream Company shop in 1957. Courtesy Virginia Williams and the Civil Rights Heritage Project, Durham County Library.

Durham pastor and civil rights leader Douglas E. Moore gives communion to five of the local youths who sat-in at the Royal Ice Cream Company shop in 1957. Courtesy Virginia Williams and the Civil Rights Heritage Project, Durham County Library.

On June 23, 1957, the Royal Ice Cream sit-in began in Durham. The Royal Ice Cream Company had a doorway on one street with a “White Only” sign and one on another marked “Colored Only.” A partition divided the restaurant in two. To protest, a local minister and six young African Americans went to Royal Ice Cream and took up booths on the white side. The manager called the police who charged them with trespassing.

Found guilty of trespassing the next day, each of the protesters was fined $10 plus court costs. On appeal the case went to Durham County Superior Court, and a jury trial was held. An all-white jury rendered a guilty verdict on each defendant. The case was then appealed to the N.C. Supreme Court, which upheld the law regarding segregated facilities. Attorneys appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case.

The Royal Ice Cream sit-in helped lay the foundation for the 1960 Greensboro sit-ins, which sparked the national movement for civil rights.

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