February 16, 2007
(Jack G. Moebes/courtesy Greensboro News & Record)

(Jack G. Moebes/courtesy Greensboro News & Record)

From the Newseum collection: Sit-in at Woolworth's

The stools are just vinyl, wood and metal, attached to the front of an ordinary lunch counter. But these artifacts made history. They are from the F.W. Woolworth in Greensboro, N.C., where an important blow against segregation was made 47 years ago this month.

On Feb. 1, 1960, four black freshmen from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College sat at the whites-only Woolworth's counter and tried without success to get a cup of coffee. They stayed until the store closed at 5:30 p.m. and returned the next day, along with about 20 others. Hundreds more joined them as the protest stretched on for six months.

News accounts of their courage sparked three years of sit-ins that spread to more than 50 cities in nine states. The protesters endured ridicule, beatings and jail to effectively end segregation of public accommodations in this country.

The Woolworth store in Greensboro is now closed and is the site of an International Civil Rights Center and Museum, still under construction.

Three of the original protesters are alive and attended an annual remembrance of the sit-in movement this month in Greensboro. They are Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil and Ezell Blair Jr. (now known as Jibreel Khazan). They honored several of the female college students, from Bennett College and other schools, who stood with them, walking picket lines with daily dedication, long after the camera crews had left.

A section of the lunch counter and two of the stools will be on display in the News History gallery when the Newseum opens soon. Adjoining them are headlines from civil rights protests at lunch counters throughout the South.

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