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-