The Southern University 16: A Tribute to 16 African-American College Students Whose Sacrifices Improved the Lives of All of Us

By Jefferson, Jevaillier | Diversity Employers, October 2004 | Go to article overview

The Southern University 16: A Tribute to 16 African-American College Students Whose Sacrifices Improved the Lives of All of Us


Jefferson, Jevaillier, Diversity Employers


For participating in the sit-ins of March 28, 29 and 30, 1960, 16 African-American college students were expelled from Southern University and barred from all public colleges and universities in the state of Louisiana, their educations interrupted, their lives, those of their families, and those of African Americans forever changed.

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We salute their dignity, forever recorded by the United States Supreme Court: "Thus, having shown that these records contain no evidence to support a finding that petitioners disturbed the peace, either by outwardly boisterous conduct or by passive [368 U.S. 157, 174] conduct likely to cause a public disturbance, we hold that these convictions violated petitioners' right to due process of law guaranteed them by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The undisputed evidence shows that the police who arrested the petitioners were left with nothing to support their actions except their own opinions that it was a breach of the peace for the petitioners to sit peacefully in a place where custom decreed they should not sit. Such activity, in the circumstances of these cases, is not evidence of any crime and cannot be so considered by the police or by the courts." Chief Justice Earl Warren for the U.S. Supreme Court

March 28, 1960

The S.H. Kress Department Store Group:

Janette Hoston Harris, Psychology

John Johnson, Law

Kenneth Johnson, Law

JoAnn Morris, Sociology

Donald Moss, Law

Marvin Robinson, Business, Student Government President

Felton Valdry, Biology

We salute them for their perception of a Movement for Freedom begun: Student campus-leaders asked African-Amercian students to participate in what they referred to as "The Cause." "We'd read about North Carolina A & T in February. We met at the law school, and talked about ways we could support North Carolina A & T College. We had a laundry list of things, but we cut it down to about four or five things," Dr. Janette Hoston Harris said.

On Feb. 1, 1960, Ezell Blair Jr. (who, in 1968, changed his name to Jibreel Khazan), Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil and David Richmond, freshmen at North Carolina A & T College, entered Woolworth's on Elm Street in Greensboro, NC They purchased sundries and school supplies. Around 4:30 p.m., they sit at Woolworth's lunch counter and order coffee. They are denied service, and remain seated until the shop's 5 p.m. closing time. They are later dubbed the Greensboro Four. This sit-in set off a wave of similar actions around the South, resulting in protests against Woolworth's and other popular store chains around the country. College students were fired up.

Hoston Harris said the group consulted strategist Major Johns to decide their exact plan. "It was decided that he wouldn't share the information with anybody, because if you share it with anybody, the whole campus would know about it. We wanted it to be a complete surprise," the former University of the District of Columbia professor recalled.

JoAnn Morris, then an 18-year-old freshman, is a native of Shreveport, 211 miles north of Louisiana's capital city. Her involvement in "The Cause" stemmed from Morris attending a meeting held in a gymnasium near her dormitory, Lottie Anthony Hall. The Alabama A & M University English professor said the meeting was set to feature a speaker who was a no-show after alleged threats by white Baton Rougeans.

After the meeting, Morris said, "Marvin (Robinson) and all of the ones who were there that I sat in with gathered into this little side room. I happened to be standing there, and they were saying. 'Well, man, we don't have anybody to come to speak tomorrow night.' She suggested that her cousin. Shreveport civil rights activist Dr. C.O. Simpkins, could address Southern's students the next night. After Simpkins' speech, Morris said they decided to sitin. …

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