Riding the waves of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Woolworth's sit-ins integrated lunch counters across the nation and helped to destroy Jim Crow laws.
Woolworth sit-ins at Greensboro, North Carolina, lunch counters in 1960 led set off the most significant civil rights movement of twentieth century America, after Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King led Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, both of which sounded knell to Jim Crow laws.
Four well-dressed black college freshmen, Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr. (later known as Jibreel Khazan), and David Richmond, from segregated North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College, known as the Greensboro Four, challenged Jim Crow when they sat down at the Woolworth’s lunch counter and asked politely to be served, sparking similar protests and racial demonstrations across the nation in the south and the north.
The Greensboro Four from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College protested in a similar style to that of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the style later perfected by the non-violent protest style of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the streets of the Deep South that led up to his I Have A Dream Speech. Non-violent protest methods, taught to those who would participate, were rehearsed and scripted so that tempers would be kept in line and escalation of violence would be one sided to highlight hatred directed toward innocent people marching or sitting for their rights. This non-violent style of protest was designed to be captured by a new broadcast medium, called television, much more effective than sound-only radio.
|Photo: Rosa Parks |
Montgomery Bus Boycott 1956
The young college freshmen, who had earned the deserving title of the Greensboro Four, were refused service at the lunch counter because Woolworth 's headquarters had decreed that the company policy was “to abide by local custom.” The persistence of the four male students every day following that first day caused other students, including female and white students, to join them. As news spread over the nation, similar actions were repeated in other cities across America, bringing down the old Jim Crow laws that represented segregation and overt discrimination against African Americans and other non-white people.
Offering an unusually intimate portrait of four men whose moral courage at ages 17 and 18 not only changed public accommodation laws in North Carolina but also served as a blueprint for non-violent protests throughout the 1960s, FEBRUARY ONE: The Story of the Greensboro Four reveals how these idealistic college students became friends and inspired one another to stage the sit-in, and how the burden of history has impacted their lives ever since.
At the time that the protest at Woolworth's in Greensboro was taking place in 1960, it was five months before my eleventh birthday. Five years earlier, I remember my mother talking about Rosa Parks and showing me pictures of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in a magazine. I had no real idea what I was looking at six years old. But I did understand the signs that read Colored Served in Rear.
|Signs of the Time: Colored Served in Rear|
|Brown vs. Board of Education |
of Topeka: A Brief History
(Google Affiliate Ad)
I even knew about the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Brown v. the Board of Education. That was a year before my mother enrolled me in first grade. She didn't didn't try hiding things from me even when I was little and she was trying figure out how Brown would affect me. I saw the pictures in the newspaper. My mother took black newspapers from other cities because she said our local paper didn't print anything about us unless it was bad. She needed to know whether I would have to go to a different school than the one she knew about. Brown didn't affect me. Schools remained segregated through my high school graduation.
Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court decision that mandated the desegregation of U.S. schools, is popularly seen as a hallmark of American justice. But author and professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, Peter Irons, surveys recent U.S. history to reveal a quite different picture: many states have found ways to delay implementation of, or totally evade, the ruling. .
In 1955 and 1956, the Montgomery Bus Boycott brought Alabama buses to a halt. I was in first grade when I heard my teachers whispering about a woman named Rosa Parks who had refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus and started the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
At 10 years old, I was very aware of the treatment of black people in stores, movies and other private and public places. In fact, before I went to the first grade, my grandmother taught me to read 'white only' and 'colored' before I had learned to read any other words. When I did attend school, they were segregated. I could see as we passed in the car that those schools for white students were bigger, and better constructed and landscaped than the schools for black students. But I was also aware of the changes taking place.