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Greensboro Sit-Ins

Greensboro Sit-Ins

Martin Luther King, Jr. preached the gospel of peaceful protest, but peaceful protests are often eclipsed by the more explosive demonstrations that dominate media coverage. In Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960, the civil rights movement was getting into full swing with the formation of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee earlier that year in Raleigh. A group of four men heeded their call.

This small group of nonviolent protesters embodied MLK's ideas in a way that seemed to attack all of the fallacies of the segregationist movement using understated tactics that were seemingly just as explosive as any bomb might have been. Who were these protestors, and what were the effects of their actions? Where do they fit within the canon of civil rights activism? Read on, and find out in this explanation.

Greensboro sit-ins Woolworth's Sit-in in Durham, N.C. StudySmarterFig. 1 Woolworth's Sit-in in Durham, N.C.

Did you find this explanation helpful? If so, don't miss our other explanations on important figures of the Civil Rights Movement, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Emmett Till, Ruby Bridges, and more!

Sit-in (noun) - in social justice, a peaceful protest involving groups of people sitting for an extended period in a public place to speak out against unfair or discriminatory policies.

Greensboro Sit-Ins Purpose

The Greensboro sit-ins began on February 1, 1960. The accumulating progress inspired the civil rights movement's sit-ins and accompanying setbacks and flare-ups. For example, the grotesque and hate-driven murder of Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi, had occurred a scant five years earlier. In addition, activists such as John Young founded the SNCC virtually on Greensboro's doorstep in Raleigh. The Freedom Rides of 1961, undertaken to protest violations of a new federal law banning discrimination in interstate accommodations, buoyed the orchestrators of the sit-ins even higher.

The students' growing frustrations in light of the movement's gains encouraged them to take action against discrimination. Their goal boiled down to treating us equally and removing the discriminatory barriers to equal access. In short, end segregation. In the words of a popular contemporary chant of the desegregationist movement: "Integration NOW! Segregation NEVER!"

Greensboro Sit-Ins Sit-in in North Carolina StudySmarterFig. 2 Sit-in in North Carolina

Peaceful Protests

The peaceful tactics the sit-ins' progenitors deployed were like an object lesson ripped straight from the book of Martin Luther King, Jr. Nonviolent protests, especially sit-ins, were usually highly effective because the police's hands were tied, unable to make arrests in the absence of a crime.

The swelling of an interracial crowd, including counter-protestors, threw the ridiculousness of a segregationist policy into stark relief. Further, sit-ins usually drew media attention on a massive scale. The demonstrations usually meant significant business losses, including payroll and operating costs. There was always the risk of possible boycotts.

The Greensboro four were not only influenced by the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr., but also by those of Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948). Recognized today as the Father of India, Gandhi was one of the most important spiritual leaders of the 20th century. He practiced and preached the concept of Satyagraha or civil disobedience through peaceful protest.

Greensboro Sit-Ins Facts

The architects of the Greensboro sit-ins were known as the Greensboro Four. The men were North Carolina Agricultural Technical College students who had grown weary of being denied service due to segregationist policies. They were:

  • Ezell Blair, Jr.
  • David Richmond
  • Joseph McNeil
  • Franklin McCain.

Greensboro sit-ins Civil Rights Activist David Richmond StudySmarterFig. 3 Civil Rights Activist David Richmond

With the help of Ralph Johns, a white organizer and local businessman, the men selected Woolworth's lunch counter as their target location. One of the men entered and purchased items on the desegregated side of the store, buying a few daily necessities such as toothpaste.

There, the store accepted his money, and he proceeded to make his way to the lunch counter, where he was denied service and asked to leave. The other men joined him and refused to leave, enduring epithets from staff black and white. Some dubbed them "rabble-rousers," criminals, and ne'er-do-wells. A white woman came over and told the men, "I'm so proud of you. I only wish you had done this ten years ago."

On February 2, the men returned. The crowd soon grew, with students from a local Black women's college arriving to augment the others. Everyone brought their books, studied, and did their homework. Police arrived, but there was no provocation forthcoming. Ralph Johns telephoned the media, who soon came with their banks of cameras and much-desired publicity.

Greensboro sit-ins Great River Road - Sit-In at a Lunch Counter for Civil Rights StudySmarterFig. 4 Great River Road - Sit-In at a Lunch Counter for Civil Rights

Greensboro Sit-Ins Date

The Greensboro sit-ins happened essentially at the dawn of the civil rights movement. The next ten years would bring seismic changes, excellent resistance on both sides, and violence.

Timeline of Important Events in the Civil Rights Movement

YearEvent
August 1955Emmett Till was murdered in Money, Mississippi.
December 1955Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott spurred on by Rosa Parks' activism
February 1960Greensboro sit-ins protesting segregation of public accommodations took place in Greensboro, North Carolina.
July 1960Woolworths discreetly joined other restaurants across the South and desegregated their facilities.
1960SNCC was founded in Raleigh, North Carolina.
1961Freedom Rides took place across the South to protest discrimination at interstate accommodations.
1963At the March on Washington rally in DC, Martin Luther King gave his "I have a dream" speech.
June 11, 1963JFK addressed the nation on the topic of civil rights.
June 12, 1963Medgar Evers was assassinated.
June 19, 1963JFK introduced his Civil Rights bill.
September 15, 196316th St. Baptist Church in Birm, Alabama, was bombed, and four African American girls were killed.
November 22, 1963JFK was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
November 24, 1963Lyndon B. Johnson introduced the bill in Congress, where all Southern representatives opposed it.
February 10, 1964The Civil Rights Act was passed in the House but was filibustered in the Senate by the Southern representatives. President Johnson stressed the necessity of continuing it with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
June 10, 1964The Civil Rights Act became the law of the land after a lengthy filibuster by the Southern Bloc.
1965The Voting Rights Act of 1965 built on the protections in the Civil Rights Act and the 15th amendment, ensuring voters were protected from discrimination.

Greensboro Sit-Ins Impact

The significant impact of the Greensboro sit-ins extended to other college towns, where there were copycat demonstrations. By the end of the summer of 1960, Woolworths had integrated its dining amenities, and restaurants across the country followed suit, no longer denying customer service based on race. On that hot July day, the first black employees served at the Greensboro Woolworths were discreetly told to take their lunch and order at the café. Let's name them:

  • Geneva Tisdale
  • Susie Morrison
  • Anetha Jones
  • Charles Best.

The Greensboro sit-ins became an iconic moment in the struggle for civil rights. The site still stands today as a monument to those men and women who took a stand gracefully, illustrating the illogic of a system that had been. The sit-ins were a harbinger of more significant gains over the next couple of years, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which provided equal access to public accommodations and desegregation, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Greensboro sit-ins Civil Rights protesters and Woolworth's Sit-In, Durham, NC, 10 February 1960 StudySmarterFig. 5 Civil Rights protesters and Woolworth's Sit-In, Durham, NC, 10 February 1960

Today the old Woolworths commemorates the peaceful protest of 1960. You can even see a piece of the actual lunch counter where the men and women sat and patiently waited for their rights in the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.

Greensboro Sit-Ins - Key takeaways

  • The Greensboro sit-ins began on February 1, 1960, in Greensboro, North Carolina.
  • The sit-ins were organized by what became known as the Greensboro Four, four students from a local university, North Carolina Agricultural Technical College. The four were Ezell Blair, Jr., Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond. The sit-ins were orchestrated with the help of a white organizer and local businessman, Ralph Johns.
  • The sit-ins protested the segregationist dining policy at Woolworths, as the men had been denied service at the lunch counter because of their race. The crowds soon swelled to over 300 students, spreading the action to other college towns nationwide.
  • The impact of these peaceful protests was such that restaurants across the South adopted integrationist policies that year. Woolworth served its first Black customers in August of 1960.

Frequently Asked Questions about Greensboro Sit-Ins

The Greensboro Sit-Ins ended segregation in most Woolworth stores nationwide.

The Greensboro Four were four Black students at North Carolina Agricultural Technical College who decided to stage the sit-ins.

Students from local universities, including a local women's college, and hundreds of locals both black and white.

They were non-violent and often negatively affected businesses.

Four students from Greensboro University, known as the Greensboro Four.

Final Greensboro Sit-Ins Quiz

Question

What does the SNCC stand for?

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Answer

The Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee.

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When did the Greensboro sit-ins take place?

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Answer

1960

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Who were two famous activists that influenced the Greensboro Four?

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Answer

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.

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Where did the Greensboro sit-ins take place?

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Answer

At a Woolworth's lunch counter

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How many men began the  Greensboro sit-ins?

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Answer

Four

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Did women attend the Greensboro sit-ins?

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Answer

Yes.

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Who berated the men when they appeared on the scene?

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Answer

Staff

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When did Woolworth's finally desegregate their lunch counter?

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Answer

In July 1960.

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Who was invited to be the first customers served at the desegregated lunch counter?

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African-American staff of Woolworth's.

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Where can you see a piece of the Woolworth's Greensboro lunch counter today?

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Answer

In the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.

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