SITTING DOWN TO STAND UP: REMEMBERING GREENSBORO 1960:

Monday, February 1, 2010

(DC Labor)

February 1, 1960, began as a crisp winters day half a century ago. But by the end of the day, U.S. race relations would be changed forever. On that day, four neatly-dressed African-Americans students quietly took their seats a t a Woolworths lunch counter and asked to be served. Such an occurrence wouldnt draw a moments attention today, but in 1960 in Greensboro, North Carolina, only white people were allowed to sit and eat. Blacks could eat standing up. They were allowed to cook meals, wash dishes and clean up the counter, but Blacks were forbidden to serve meals to customers. These rules were just a few of the many that segregated the races throughout the American South. Igained my manhood by that simple act, said Franklin Eugene McCain, whose sit-in with Ezell A. Blair Jr., David Leinhall Richmond and Alfred McNeil helped spark the American civil rights movement. The four young men were denied service but refused to leave their seats. The waitresses were told to ignore the students, who remained in their seats, under the watchful eye of local police called in by the store manager, until the store closed. The next day, the four students returned with nearly 30 of their classmates. The day after that, scores of new students joined the Greensboro sit-in. Members of the schools football team showed up at the lunch counter to serve as a physical deterrent to anybody seeking to stop the growing protest. Sit-ins by high school and college students spread to other cities throughout North Carolina and the South. In a vain attempt to stem the wave of sit-ins, the Greensboro Woolworths lunch counter was closed. When the Woolworths lunch counter re-opened after several months of talks, it served meals to people of all races. A section of the lunch counter has been preserved and is on display at the National Museum of American History here in Washington, where it serves as a tangible reminder that though segregation is gone, injustices remain in our land and that the power to battle for our rights still rests in our hands. - by Roger Newell. A Strategic Campaigner at the Teamsters and the Co-Chair of DC Jobs with Justice, Newell is a member of the National Writers Union, UAW Local 1991. The Woolworths lunch counter along with historic photos and a 50-year timeline of the civil rights movement is in the National Museum of American Historys 2 East section. Photo (left) by Chris Garlock

 

 

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