January 28, 2010
Greensboro Sit-Ins

Four college students sit at a lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., to protest racial segregation. (Jack G. Moebes/Courtesy Greensboro News & Record)

50 Years Ago in News History: Greensboro Sit-Ins

Feb. 1, 1960. Four African-American students in Greensboro, N.C., walked up to the lunch counter at F.W. Woolworth, quietly took seats in the "whites-only" section and asked to be served.

The students — Ezill Blair Jr., David Richmond, Joseph McNeil and Franklin McCain — attended the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina, a historically black college. When service was denied, they refused to leave the lunch counter, staying until the store closed at 5:30 p.m.

Their act of openly defying racial segregation marked the historic beginning of the student-led protest movement and put in motion a civil rights strategy that impelled future rallies and sit-ins.

The four men returned the next day with dozens of other students who were prepared to take their places at the counter. The students were given instructions in nonviolent behavior and were encouraged to dress professionally. The sit-ins soon ignited similar protests throughout the South.

Media coverage was varied. Some newspapers covered the demonstrations as Page-One news. Others buried the story on inside pages.

The students' persistence paid off.

By October, Woolworth's and several other variety store chains had integrated their lunch counters in 112 cities, including Greensboro. In the next three years, hundreds more cities followed suit.

The story of the Greensboro sit-ins, along with a section of the counter and two stools from Woolworth's, are currently on display in "Make Some Noise: Students and the Civil Rights Movement."

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