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  • In 1994, Curator Bill Yeingst oversaw the removal of the lunch counter from the Woolworth's store and its packing and shipping, as documented in these photographs.  Members of the local carpenters' union donated their time and labor to prepare and crate the lunch counter and the associate materials for their journey to the museum.

    Collecting the Lunch Counter

  • At the time of the closing of the Greensboro Woolworth's store, the National Park Service (NPS) investigated having the site declared a National Historical Landmark.  In doing so the NPS Chief Historian approached the National Museum of American History requesting that the museum not remove a portion of the lunch counter for preservation in the museum. Thus, while the portion of the lunch counter did end up in NMAH's collections, there were also other possible preservation plans.  Currently, the Woolworth building is part of a downtown historic district, but it was not designated a National Historic Landmark.  It is the site of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum.

    National Park Service Offers an Alternate Plan

  • Almost immediately news of the sit-in spread across campus and students swarmed to the cause. The sit-in leaders coordinated with the student body president to  arrange transportation and order. By the third day, students occupied 63 of the 65 seats at the lunch counter. Lewis Brandon, a student at North Carolina A&T, who coordinated picketing efforts, recalls in this interview from 1981 some of the opposition they faced.

    More Students Join the Protests: Another Student Interview (Lewis Brandon)

  • Ezell Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, and David Richmond, the four students who began the Greensboro Sit-in, started school at North Carolina A&T in the fall of 1959. They spent evenings talking about the condition of African Americans in the United States and the need to take action. David Richmond, recalls that "We challenged each other, really. We constantly heard about all the evils that are occurring and how blacks are mistreated and nobody was doing anything about it. . . . We used to question, 'Why is it that you have to sit in the balcony? Why do you have to ride in the back of the bus?'" In this interview conducted in 1979, Joseph McNeil gives his own account of how they came to act.

    How it Originated: Joseph McNeil's Story, Part I

  • Twenty-one-year-old Charles O. Bess was one of four black employees at the Greensboro Woolworth's lunch counter. He recalls in this 1984 interview what the sit-in looked like from his perspective.

    A View from Behind the Counter: The Story of a Black Woolworth's Counter Man (Charles Bess)

  • Many of the students who participated in the sit-ins had strong support from their families. Ezell Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan) noted, "I grew up in a home where I had a father who was very strong on the issue of civil rights. . . . If anyone did him wrong because of his race or color, he stood up." In this 1982 interview, Ezell Blair's sister, Gloria Jean (Blair) Howard, recalls how he had consulted with their father and had his full backing.

    Origins of the Sit-in: A Sibling Remembers (Gloria Jean Blair Howard)

  • To make the transfer of the lunch counter and accompanying material, such as the stools, signs, and mirror, representatives of the Woolworth Corporation signed a "Deed of Gift" in 1994.

    Deed of Gift

  • In 1993 when the Greensboro Woolworth's  store closed, Spencer Crew, the Acting Director of the National Museum of American History asked the Vice-President for Public Affairs at Woolworth to donate a portion of the lunch counter for display in the museum.  Note that the Crew assures the Woolworth Corporation the museum will fairly and accurately interpret the history of the events in 1960 and that by only taking a portion of the counter, the remainder would be available for the creation of a museum on site or for display in other civil rights museums.

    Approaching the Woolworth Corporation

  • In the two months following the start of the Greensboro sit-ins, black students organized more than fifty similar protests across the South. In April, students—aided by veteran activist Ella Baker and supported by funding from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)—created the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to coordinate the protests. As their founding statement indicates, they embraced principles of nonviolence enunciated by leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. (head of the SCLC) and embodied in the sit-in movement. King assumed SNCC would be an arm of the SCLC, but it was from the start an independent voice of the student protesters and a highly influential force in the Civil Rights movement.

    From Sit-ins to SNCC: the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee Statement of Purpose

  • Students in other cities soon began their own protests. One week to the day after the demonstrations started in Greensboro, black students in Winston-Salem and Durham, North Carolina, held sit-ins at local lunch counters, with more demonstrations in the next days in Charlotte and Raleigh—other major centers in the same state. By the end of the second week, demonstrations had moved to other states throughout the South and continued through the next few years. The 1963 photograph depicts students enduring taunts, mustard, and ketchup as they sat-in at a Woolworth's lunch counter in Jackson, Mississippi.

    Harassing the Protesters

  • On February 1, 1960 photographer Jack Moebes arrived at F.W. Woolworth  just as the store was closing. A small crowd had gathered to witness the sit-in, but store manager Curley Harris would not allow him to take photographs. He waited until the four students came out of a side entrance, then asked them to pose for him walking down the sidewalk. The photograph was not printed in the Greensboro newspaper, which was not interested in promoting the cause of the protesters, but became famous ten years later at the anniversary.

    The Sit-in Students Captured on Film

  • In the days before pervasive air travel and ubiquitous interstate highways, Americans traveled the nation via trains. Serving those travelers were tens of thousands of Pullman porters, most of them African Americans. It was a stable and prestigious job within the black community and it also nurtured black protest and black activism. In 1925, A. Philip Randolph founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which had a major impact on American life as a successful union bargaining for the rights of its members, and as an important leader in the civil rights movement. During World War II, Randolph led successful efforts to end discrimination in the federal hiring. This tradition of activism and protest for equal treatment co-existed with the everyday patterns of racial inequality and segregation faced by the Pullman porters, as exemplified by this wool blanket used by the porters between the 1930s and the 1950s. Part of a Pullman porter's job was to make up the sleeping berths in his assigned sleeping car and to provide extra blankets (invariably dyed salmon) to passengers requesting them. When a blanket became worn or damaged in service, the company assigned them to the porters for their own use. In order to insure that the blankets used by porters and passengers never mixed, used blankets were dyed blue.

    Segregation in Tangible Form: the Pullman Blanket

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