Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Black Struggle for Freedom

By William H. Chafe | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
The Sit-Ins Begin

Somebody, a lot like myself, could run around another twenty years trying to take down the [ Jim Crow] signs and plead with the Woolworth's to serve these people, and they would get nowhere.

Louise Smith, a Greensboro white liberal

Some Negroes say we're moving, but not fast enough. I say that if it takes two or maybe three months to gain equal service with white people in a chain store that has a hundred years of history behind it, we've done something pretty big.

Ezell Blair, Jr., a sit-in leader

On February 1, 1960, four young men from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College set forth on an historic journey that would ignite a decade of civil rights protest. Walking into downtown Greensboro, they entered the local Woolworth's, purchased toothpaste and other small items, and then sat at the lunch counter and demanded equal service with white persons. "We do not serve Negroes," they were told. But instead of leaving, the students remained. The next day they returned, their ranks reinforced this time by fellow students. Their actions sparked the student phase of the civil rights revolution. Within two months, the sit-in movement had spread to fifty-four cities in nine states. By mid-April, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had formed in Raleigh, North Carolina, to carry forward the battle. Within a year, more than one hundred cities had engaged in at least some desegregation of public facilities in response to student-led demonstrations. The 1960's stage of the freedom movement had begun.

The Greensboro sit-ins constituted a watershed in the history of America. Although similar demonstrations had occurred before, never in the past had they prompted such a volcanic response. The Greensboro "Coffee Party" of 1960, one observer noted, would rank in history with the Boston Tea Party as a harbinger of revolutionary shifts in the social order. The Southern Regional Council--a voluntary agency supporting interracial progress--agreed. The demonstrations, the council declared, showed "that segregation cannot be maintained in the South short of continuous coercion." Not only was the South in for a time of change; more impor-

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Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Black Struggle for Freedom
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Contents xiii
  • Introduction 3
  • Part I Years of Protest 11
  • Chapter One - Inch by Inch----- 13
  • Chapter Two - the Politics of Moderation 42
  • Chapter Three - the Sit-Ins Begin 71
  • Chapter Four - a Time of Testing 102
  • Chapter Five - "My Feet Took Wings" 119
  • Part II Years of Polarization 153
  • Chapter Six - "We Will Stand Pat" 155
  • Chapter Seven - Black Power 172
  • Chapter Eight the End or the Beginning 203
  • Chapter Nine Struggle and Ambiguity 237
  • Epilogue for the Paperback Edition 251
  • Notes 255
  • A Note on Sources 269
  • Index 275
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