The Greensboro Sit-ins

In 1960, a group of four freshmen from the historically black North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, began planning a way to protest segregation. The four black students (Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr., and David Richmond) were inspired by Martin Luther King and his practice of nonviolent protest.

They decided to protest against the “whites only” lunch counters at their local Greensboro, North Carolina Woolworth’s. The plan was simple, but effective: the four men would occupy seats, ask to be served, and when they were inevitably denied service, they would not leave. They would repeat this process day in and day out, for as long as it would take. Their thinking was that, if they could attract widespread attention to the issue, Woolworth would feel pressured to desegregate.

On February 1, 1960 the A&T Four (as they would later be known as) were refused service at the store’s lunch counter when they each asked for a cup of coffee.

The four freshmen stayed until the store closed that night, and then went back to campus, where they recruited more students to join them the next day.

The sit-in grew over the following weeks with protestors taking every seat in the establishment and spilling out of the store. As protestors were arrested, others would take their places so that the establishment was unceasingly occupied. The protest spread to other cities, including Atlanta and Nashville. After months of protests, facilities began to desegregate throughout the country, and the Greensboro Woolworth’s started to serve African American patrons in July.

While not the first sit-in of the Civil Rights Movement, the Greensboro sit-ins are considered a catalyst to the subsequent sit-in movement. These sit-ins led to increased national and support for desegregation.