By Dr. Raquel Y. Wilson
On Feb 1, 1960, four African American college students from the North Carolina A&T State University quietly sat down at the whites-only Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina and ordered coffee. It was a planned move by the four students, designed to attract media attention to the issue of segregation. Denied service, as was the custom in those dark days, the four continued to peacefully occupy their seats and refused to leave until the store closed that night.
The peaceful protest inspired others to join in for daily protests. By Feb 5, 300 students were present at the store. On Saturday, February 6, over 1,400 North Carolina A&T students met in the Harrison Auditorium on campus. They voted to continue the protests and went to the Woolworth store, filling up the store.
During the sit-ins, white customers heckled the black students. North Carolina’s official chaplain of the Ku Klux Klan, George Dorsett, as well as other members of the Klan, were present.
The brave freshmen from NCA&T, who would later be adorned with the iconic label of the “Greensboro Four”, consisted of David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, and Ezell Blair Jr. (Jibreel Khazan).
The sit-ins soon spread to nearby towns and other Southern cities. Sales at the boycotted stores dropped by a third, leading Woolworth to abandon segregation policies; the dining area in most stores were desegregated after July 25, 1960.
The Greensboro sit-in was not the first such event, but it catalyzed a much larger nonviolent sit-in movement across the country, which played a definitive role in the fight for civil rights. In its wake, segregation of public places became illegal under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Woolworth Department Store in Greensboro was subsequently converted into the International Civil Rights Center and Museum (Woolworth went out of business in 1997). The street south of the building is named February One Place.
Today, the site of the Woolworth store where the sit-in took place is now the International Civil Rights Center and Museum.