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Looking back at the history-making Greensboro Woolworth sit-in

Four Black college students changed the course of history with a 1960 sit-in protest at the segregated Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C.
Looking back at the history-making Greensboro Woolworth sit-in
Posted at 7:44 PM, Feb 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-01 19:44:43-05

On Feb. 1, 1960 four Black college students conducted a nonviolent protest at the segregated Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, instructed to just sit at the counter and wait to be served. 

The simple, peaceful act enacted major change not only with the desegregation of lunch counters at Woolworth, but with the integration of dining locations across the South. By July of that year, the Woolworth lunch counter was serving Black patrons, instead of relegating them to a standing snack counter at the back. 

The success of the sit-in led to other similar peaceful protests staged in cities across the United States, garnering major media attention. 

As the National Museum of African American History and Culture put it, Black Americans have held onto a tradition of activism through the pages of the story of the United States to "challenge America to live up to its democratic ideals."

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During the 1960 sit-in, the men, now dubbed the Greensboro Four, entered the Woolworth location and purchased small items, retaining the receipt to prove they'd made the purchases. 

They then sat down at the segregated lunch counter at the general store that was for "Whites only," a sign read. 

After the men requested to be served, the waitstaff refused, per their training. The lunch counter's manager called the police, but the four Black men — Ezell Blair Jr., Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond — knew that a local White businessman working with them, named Ralph Johns, had called the media so that their story would be seen. 

The men's protest was inspired by the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi and other peace activists. 

Their success holds a major place in the story of Civil Rights in the U.S.


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