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


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.


Charles Bess: It was kind of late in the evening on that day. These four fellows from [North Carolina] A&T State University, they comes in and sit at the counter. There was the white waitresses back there, they was kind of skeptical about telling these four fellows that we couldn't serve them. So one of the black workers—one of the black sandwich board girls back there—at that time now, there wasn't any black waitresses back there. So the girl that was on the sandwich board told these four fellows that, "We don't serve colored folks here."

Well, they kept on sitting. Then one of the black guys, they said "You mean that we just have bought something over on this counter here, and our money's not good over here? We're going to keep on sitting because we haven't broken any rules." So they kept sitting, and Mr. Harris, he was the manager of the store there, he walked by them and looked at them, but he didn't say anything. After a while, the police came by, he walked by them, except they didn't say anything to him, they kept on sitting. And no sooner closing time comes, which was, I think was about around 5:30, I think it closed sometime by about 5:30, and they comes by—they gets up and walks away.


Interview with Charles O. Bess, January 20, 1984, Greensboro VOICES, University Libraries, University of NC at Greensboro. [].

These four oral histories deal with the planning and execution of the sit-in at the Greensboro Woolworth's Lunch Counter on February 1, 1960.