In Honor of MLK: Lunch Counter Sit-Ins of the 1960s

Durham Civil Rights Heritage Project
Martin Luther King and associates at the Durham, North Carolina, Woolworth's lunch counter after it had been closed by the company, February 16, 1960

Sometimes restaurants are good for more than just eating. In honor of Martin Luther King's birthday, Fork in the Road presents this collection of historic photos from the lunch-counter sit-ins of the early 1960's, which forever changed the history of the United States.

The sit-in that started it all: From left, Joe McNeil, Franklin McCain, Billy Smith, and Clarence Henderson conducted a 1960 sit-in against segregation at a Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina.

It may be difficult for us to believe now, but in the early 1960s, just 50 years ago, segregation of races in public accommodations was still the rule in many parts of the country -- and not just in the Deep South. Seating in lunch counters and other restaurants was typically restricted by race, with some institutions open only to whites, others open to whites and blacks, but forcing blacks to sit in marked-off areas or even eat standing up. Other culture, religious, and racial groups (Chinese and Native Americans among them) were also the subject of similar discrimination.

Though lunch-counter sit-ins began as early as 1957, they didn't become a focus of national attention until 1960, when a series of demonstrations occurred at Woolworth's lunch counters. In cities like Greensboro, North Carolina; Jackson, Mississippi; Tallahassee, Florida; and Lychburg, Virginia, many of these eating establishments were emphatically whites-only as a matter of company policy. The Greensboro sit-ins, beginning on February 1, 1960, galvanized the movement, and led to dozens of similar demonstrations.

Sit-in at Woolworth's in Jacksonville, Florida, 1960

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John in OKC
John in OKC

One of the first lunch counter sit-ins was held in 1958 in Oklahoma City.  Here is the Wikipedia posting:   " on August 19, 1958 in Oklahoma City a nationally recognized sit-in at the Katz Drug Store lunch counter occurred. The Oklahoma City Sit-in Movement was led by NAACP Youth Council leader Clara Luper, a local high school teacher, and young local students, including Luper's eight-year old daughter, who suggested the Sit-in be held. The group quickly desegregated the Katz Drug Store lunch counters. It took several more years, but she and the students, using the tactic, integrated all of Oklahoma City's eating establishments."

Angry Reader
Angry Reader

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Thanks for the info, John. I'd also been thinking about the Royal Ice Cream sit-in of 1957 in Durham, NC.