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Greensboro Sit Ins

Author: Beni Restea
by Beni Restea
Posted: Jul 31, 2020

The history of America was built on the shoulders of great men. Figures like Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson went down in history through their achievements and are known worldwide for their accomplishments. These historical leaders didn’t all wind up leading the country by becoming presidents, but some led the country through movements that became greater than themselves.

There are areas in the United States where such movements made waves that turned tides in history and the most common of places became the birth of a change that swept our nation. One of these places is the city of Greensboro, N.C. A city that has an ordinary life with residents going about their ordinary jobs but that walk in the footsteps of extraordinary figures that fulfilled extraordinary tasks. Real estate agents in Greensboro N.C. can help you find your own place if you want to walk along with the change that was brought by these four brave men.

A Segregated History

We all know about segregation, but just to touch base here we are going to cover the general idea. Segregation was a big part of America’s history and Greensboro changed that.

Looking into a dictionary you can find the definition of segregation. It’s explained as an act of setting someone or something apart from others. It can be socio-economical, ethnic, cultural, religious, based on gender or sexual orientation, educational and, finally, racial.

We are going to focus, as you might have guessed, on racial segregation. After slavery was abolished, segregation was enforced in order to separate African Americans from Caucasians. Through the Jim Crow laws, segregation was enforced in schools, residential areas, busses, even cemeteries. Ideas like "separate but equal", zoning laws or the red-lining practices all impacted the African-American communities. It made it more difficult for them to access loans, education and to have a better life.

Many people started movements against segregation and here we can name Rosa Parks who refused to give up her seat to a Caucasian man in 1955 and was subsequently arrested, or protest organizers like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. but we’ll get back to him in a bit.

The Greensboro Four

Four African-American students at North Carolina A&T University carefully organized an event that changed history. They wanted to draw attention to how segregation happened in the private sector. Ezell Blair, Jr, Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil and David Richmond all studied at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro. This was in the beginning of 1960 and segregation affected day-by-day lives all over the country.

Their recent history and reports of what was happening in the country and around the world inspired them. Activists like Rosa Park, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma (the great soul) Gandhi all shared the idea of nonviolent protests and they influenced the Greensboro Four towards the belief that change did not have to come through blood-shed.

The four students approached a local Caucasian businessman, Ralph Johns and together they created a plan and set it into motion. They would go to the F.W. Woolworth Company for some simple shopping and then visit the dining area (an area which was restricted for Caucasian patrons). Ralph Johns was ready to alert the media in case what they expected to happen did come to happen and so they got the ball rolling.

Courage through nonviolence

They entered the Woolworth merchandise store on the 1st of February, 1960 in the late afternoon, and bought toothpaste, a notebook and a hairbrush. Making sure to keep the receipt as proof of their purchase they made their way towards the dining area. While the shopping area was integrated, the dining area was not.

The night before they had planned everything to the last detail and as they passed the invisible line that separated the two areas, they did so knowing that crossing that line might get them arrested, beaten or killed.

Sitting down on those four stools together, the students knew what to expect. Several moments passed until people realized what was happening. With the knowledge of other cases that ended in murders, they sat as calmly as they could and respectfully asked to be served. As expected, they were refused and were told to go to the "stand-up counter" where they could take their order to go. They would not be served at that counter since that was the policy towards African Americans at that time. For that exact argument they showed the waitress their receipt, proving that in fact they have just been served already.

Four people interacted directly with the four freshmen that afternoon, besides the Caucasian waiter.

  • An older African-American employee came out of the kitchen to tell them to stop and follow the rules. This was expected as the older generation hasn’t changed anything since the abolition of slavery and so the students remained seated.

  • The store manager requested that they think twice about what they are doing. The four men remained seated and would not engage, not even aggressively defending their stance.

  • The police officer. After understanding what situation he was faced with, the police officer started to pace the area behind the four men waving his Billy club in a threatening manner. No reaction came from the four men, however. The officer was forced to deal with a situation where those who were presumably disturbing the peace, weren’t actually disturbing anything. They were calm, silent, and adamant in their decision to sit on those four seats. There was nothing he could do. Especially with the media presence.

  • The last and, some would say the most important person that interacted with the four freshmen was an elderly Caucasian lady. She sat next to one of the men and expressed her disappointment in them. McCain replied, ready to defend their actions but still calm, wondering why she would be disappointed that they requested to be served as everybody else. To this, the woman said "I’m disappointed it took you so long to do it."

To Have a Dream

That was the first stance taken in Greensboro against segregation, but it was not the last. The sit-ins happened again and again in the same location as well as others. Over the next few days the four students gathered support from the campus and more and more students joined them. The sit-ins in Greensboro continued to grow until they reached almost 1,000 students by February 6th of the same year.

As the sit-ins continued to grow, students went to other stores with segregated lunch counters, libraries, beaches, hotels, which lead to a decrease in sales. Areas surrounding Greensboro also joined in and within a few weeks, the protests attracted national media. Not all protests end peacefully as there had been opposing movements, even appearances from members of the Ku Klux Klan. Some students were imprisoned, others hurt, but they still managed to use the nonviolent ideals and the result soon came. African Americans started to understand the power they could have if they all worked together with one single goal and a peaceful approach.

On July 25, 1960, four African American employees of F.W. Woolworth in Greensboro were asked by their manager to change into their regular clothes and get lunch at the segregated lunch counter. They took off their aprons and were the first African American people to eat in the establishment. Like that, during spring break, F.W. Woolworth quietly abandoned the segregation policy for their Greensboro business.

In March of 1960 the movement managed to flourish in 55 cities within 13 states. By April the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was formed and for years they paved the road through the Freedom Rides in the South and the March on Washington in 1963 where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his momentous "I Have a Dream'' speech. Together with the National Association of the Advancement of Coloured People, SNCC pushed for passages from the 1964’s Civil Rights Act. Segregation was not illegal yet, but it wasn’t a practice anymore in any places where African Americans decided that they were no longer segregatable.

When Past Became History

In 1964 the Civil Rights Act mandated the integration of any business that served the public.

The F.W. Woolworth Company now serves as the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. It displays memorabilia from those times, showing the impact segregation had on the community. The counter where the Greensboro Four sat is in the Smithsonian but there is one thing that can remain in the collective memory. We all look to leaders and wish to have someone to look up to whenever a change is approaching. The Greensboro sit-in was a movement of the people and it changed America as we know it. Think of it like that and you will no longer look to someone to tell you what to do. Like that you will only ask yourself what you can do.

So ask yourself and let us know in the comments what your next move will be. Like & share for those who love a bit of history or for those that want to know a bit more about Greensboro.

About the Author

Beni Restea's experience in marketing and web development took him a long way, as he acquired the necessary skills to be a professional in digital marketing for the real estate industry.

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Author: Beni Restea

Beni Restea

Member since: Jul 15, 2019
Published articles: 14

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