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Sitting for Justice

National Museum of American History
F.W. Woolworth lunch counter
Lunch counter section and other objects from the F. W. Woolworth Company store on Elm Street in Greensboro, North Carolina, now on display in the National Museum of American History.
Gift of the F. W. Woolworth Corporation

In 1960, if you were an African American, you were not allowed to sit here--the lunch counter of the F. W. Woolworth store in Greensboro, North Carolina. Racial inequality pervaded American life. And throughout the South, a racist legal system known as "Jim Crow" segregated people by race in restrooms, hotels, restaurants, and most other public accommodations. On February 1, 1960, four African American students sat down at this counter and tried to order lunch. When asked to leave, they remained in their seats. Ezell A. Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond were all enrolled at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College. Their "passive sit-down demand" began one of the first sustained sit-ins and ignited a youth-led movement to challenge injustice and racial inequality throughout the South. In

Greensboro Sit-in
On the second day of the sit-in at the Woolworth's in Greensboro, Joseph McNeil and Franklin McCain are joined by William Smith and Clarence Henderson.Courtesy of the News and Record of Greensboro

Greensboro, hundreds of students, civil rights organizations,churches, and members of the community joined in a six-month-long protest. They challenged the company's policy of racial discrimination by sitting at the lunch counter and, later, organizing an economic boycott of the store. Their defiance heightened many Americans' awareness of racial injustice and ultimately led to the desegregation of the F. W. Woolworth lunch counter on July 25, 1960.

A Timeline of the Struggle for Equal Rights in America

Year Event
1865 13th Amendment outlaws slavery
1865 Ku Klux Klan (KKK) founded to maintain white supremacy through intimidation and violence
1865 Freedman's Bureau formed during Reconstruction to assist freed slaves in the South
1866 Civil Rights Act grants citizenship to native-born Americans except Indians
1868 14th Amendment grants equal protection of the laws to African Americans
1870 15th Amendment establishes the right of African American males to vote
1875 Civil Rights Act grants equal access to public accommodations
1883 Supreme Court nullifies Civil Rights Act of
1896 Supreme Court validates the principle of "separate but equal" in Plessy v. Ferguson
1905 Niagara Movement founded to fight for school integration, voting rights, and assist African American political candidates, forerunner of the NAACP
1906 Greensburg, Indiana, race riot, the first of many in reaction to African American migration north
1909 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) formed to fight for civil rights through legal action and education
1915 Refounding of the Ku Klux Klan
1920 19th Amendment gives women the right to vote
1924 American Indians granted citizenship and the right to vote
1942 Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) founded to fight for civil rights using nonviolent, direct-action protests
1948 President Harry Truman ends segregation in the U.S. military
1954 In Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the Supreme Court overturns the principle of "separate but equal"
1955 Rosa Parks begins the Montgomery Bus Boycott
1957 President Dwight Eisenhower sends U.S. Army troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce the desegregation of schools
1957 Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) founded to coordinate localized southern efforts to fight for civil rights
1960 Sit-in at the F. W. Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, February 1
1960 Hundreds of university students stage a sit-in at downtown stores in Nashville, Tennessee, to protest segregated lunch counters
1960 Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) founded to coordinate student-led efforts to end segregation
1960 Civil Rights Act reaffirms voting rights for all Americans
1961 Integrated groups of protesters join Freedom Rides on buses across the South to protest segregation
1963 Hundreds of thousands of Americans take part in the March on Washington to call for racial equality
1964 24th Amendment outlaws poll taxes for national elections
1964 Civil Rights Act outlaws discrimination in public accommodations and by employers
1964 Organization for Afro-American Unity (OAU) formed to promote closer ties between African Americans and Africa
1965 Voting Rights Act nullifies local laws and practices that prevent minorities from voting
1965 Malcolm X assassinated
1968 Martin Luther King, Jr., assassinated
1968 Civil Rights Act outlaws discrimination in the sale or rental of housing
1970 Voting Rights Act of 1965 renewed