Woolworth Protests Launch National Sit-In Movement

The Greensboro Sit-Ins. Photo from the Associated Press / Greensboro News & Record

On February 1, 1960, four African American college students sat down at the lunch counter at Woolworth’s Department Store in downtown Greensboro and asked to be served. They were refused, thus launching the sit-in movement that would spread throughout North Carolina and the South. The four freshmen from North Carolina A&T State University who initiated the first sit-in were: Ezell Blair, Jr. (later known as Jibreel Khazan), Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond.

Sit-ins by college students during the next several months forced the integration of businesses in the region. Local media attention led to national coverage and similar sit-ins began elsewhere in the country, sparking a national call to battle by civil rights activists who endorsed the nonviolent form of protest to demonstrate society’s inequities for blacks.

In April 1960 the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), an outgrowth of the sit-in movement, organized at Shaw University in Raleigh.  The sit-ins and demonstrations throughout the South, slowly led to changes in local attitudes. Nationally, the ultimate consequence of these and other protests was the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, both of which assured the legal rights of blacks.

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