Video about the Woolworth Sit-Ins

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Video about the Woolworth Sit-Ins

Directions: Watch the video and then read the two passages below to get yourself more acquainted and educated with the civil rights movement and sit-ins. At the end of the hour you will have a writing assignment/activity over the sit-ins! So prepare yourself to write be acquiring as much information as possible about the sit-ins!

Extension: If you have time after watching the video and reading the passages below look through the two links below to gain additional knowledge about the sit-ins.


Extension Activity:

Introduction to Sit-In’s

When we think about the Civil Rights Movement, we often think about individuals such as Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks; events such as the Montgomery bus boycotts or Brown v. Board of Education also come to mind. Although these individuals and cases had a significant influence on the black freedom struggle of the 1950s and 1960s, student activists also played an important role, working fervently day in and day out to effectuate the change they so desperately hoped to see.

On February 1, 1960, a group of college students by the names of Joseph McNeil, Izell Blair, Franklin McCain, and David Richmond recognized the injustices of racial segregation in their town of Greensboro, North Carolina, and acted out against this by holding a “sit-in” at a local segregated lunch counter, which was reserved for whites only. This act motivated other students to implement their own sit-ins in neighboring communities along the South. These demonstrations received mass attention from the media, eventually bringing their concern to the national level. Not only did the sit-ins receive the attention from the media, but they also carried with them a huge backlash from segregationists, who often acted out against the black students in violent ways. Moreover, these demonstrations brought to light the disparities and oppressions faced by black Americans at the time.

What was an isolated act of civil disobedience in the Greensboro lunch counter sit-in soon evolved into a student led movement, addressing the concerns and grievances of black Americans. Becoming “more than a hamburger,” the student movement, which became known as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), set out to address the structural forces that contributed to the oppression of black Americans. In their struggle, SNCC students hoped to dismantle racial segregation and bring an end to discrimination against blacks. With the Jim Crow laws that were in effect until 1965 in the Southern states, racial segregation of public facilities, accommodations, jobs, and neighborhoods was legalized and, thus, so was racial discrimination. The students within the movement could no longer tolerate being treated as a second class citizen whose rights and liberties were constantly being violated. They demanded that separate was NOT equal, as was suggested by the historic case of Plessy v. Ferguson.

Although black Americans of the time in general experienced first-handedly the effects of racism of the 1950s and 1960s, the community organizing of Southern blacks was significant within the black student movement. The rural South can be thought of as symbolizing the plight of blacks in the U.S. at the time, as they were often the most isolated, poor, and oppressed group of black individuals. In working with black Southerners, SNCC members particularly focused on voter registration throughout the Black Belt to increase the power of the vote. Black voters and SNCC organizers alike, however, faced a myriad of red tape intended to stagnate blacks in their struggle towards liberation; this was in addition to the overt violent acts that were taken by white segregationists. Some of the injustices Southern blacks faced in the voter registration process included the administration of unjust literacy tests (in communities where many of the residents were illiterate), the requirement of having white character witnesses, and even the overt rejection of applicants.

Ella Baker was a civil rights activist who had been previously involved with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Taking notice of the limitations posed by other black civil rights organizations, she advocated for a different approach in which students could organize and structure themselves as well as their movement. Although not necessarily a “leader”—in the traditional sense of the term—of the student movement, Ella Baker, contributed much to the development of SNCC and helped organize black students in becoming active agents of change.

Although SNCC as an organization dismantled by the 1970s, largely due to fractions within members (i.e. the disagreement on whether nonviolence needed to be strictly adhered to), its work as a movement was definitely felt. Through their grassroots organizing, students were able to assert themselves and blacks in general as first class citizens in the United States. The students’ work played a significant role within the grander scheme of the Civil Rights Movement in effectuating change and in the struggle towards black liberation.


The Greensboro Four

On February 1, 1960, four friends sat down at a lunch counter in Greensboro. That may not sound like a legendary moment, but it was. The four people were African American, and they sat where African Americans weren’t allowed to sit. They did this to take a stand against segregation.

Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr. (later known as Jibreel Khazan), Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond were freshmen at the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina (now North Carolina A&T State University). The students wanted to protest segregation laws that prevented African Americans from entering certain public places. They agreed to stage a sit-in at Woolworth’s, a variety store that had an eating area. African Americans could shop in the store and eat at a stand-up snack bar, but they could not sit at the lunch counter. “We didn’t want to set the world on fire,” Khazan said.” We just wanted to eat.” Khazan and his friends would become known as the Greensboro Four.

The students hardly slept the night before the sit-in. They knew their actions would make some white people angry. They were afraid they would be arrested, beaten, or even killed. But they were determined to stand up for their rights and the rights of all African Americans.

The next day they went to Woolworth’s. When they sat down at the lunch counter, a waitress told them that blacks weren’t served there. They placed their orders anyway. The store manager asked them to leave. When they stayed in their seats, the manager called the Greensboro police chief, who said that he could do nothing as long as they remained quiet. The store closed early, and the four students left peacefully. They were happy that they hadn’t been arrested or bullied.

That night they asked the members of several campus groups to join them, and many agreed. The next afternoon more than twenty African American students showed up at Woolworth’s. Some white bystanders harassed them, but there was no violence. More students joined the demonstration each day. Soon black students from other colleges and some white students who supported the cause joined the sit-in. When the lunch counter filled up, the protesters picketed outside Woolworth’s and began a second sit-in at a nearby store. Some of them were harassed and received threatening phone calls, but no one was harmed.

Students in other North Carolina cities started their own sit-ins. The peaceful protests soon spread to other states in the South. African Americans began picketing Woolworth’s and other stores with segregated lunch counters in the North, too. The Greensboro Woolworth’s finally began serving blacks at its lunch counter on July 25, 1960, six months after the sit-in began. The first people served were the lunch counter employees themselves. In the first week, three hundred African Americans ate at that lunch counter. The Greensboro Four became famous for fighting discrimination. Because of their courage, principles, and persistence, they have become legends in North Carolina history.


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