Editorial: The 60th Anniversary of the Greensboro Sit-ins

“During the 1950s and ‘60s in America, racism and segregation were prominent, prompting protests from African American organizations and individuals against the mistreatment and violence.”

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Four black college students sit in protest at a whites-only lunch counter at a Wollworth's in Greensboro, North Carolina. From left to right: Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Billy Smith, and Clarence Henderson. Credit: Google images

Last Saturday, Feb. 1, was the 60th anniversary of the start of the famous Greensboro sit-ins. The Greensboro sit-ins were a series of civil rights protests in America in 1960 in Greensboro, N.C. Racial segregation, according to Encyclopedia Brittanica, was the the practice of restricting people to certain circumscribed areas of residence or to separate institutions (e.g., schools, churches) and facilities (parks, playgrounds, restaurants, restrooms) on the basis of race or apparent race.

During the 1950s and ‘60s in America, racism and segregation were prominent, prompting protests from African American organizations and individuals against the mistreatment and violence. 

One such protest was the Greensboro sit-ins, named after the location the protest took place in, Greensboro, North Carolina. Four young African American students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College. sat at the white section of a lunch counter of Woolworth’s (a department store with a café). These four students, Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr., and David Richmond were refused service after attempting to buy a cup of coffee. 

Despite being denied service, the four remained in their seats and refused to give them up. According to the History Channel, the four stayed until the store closed. They came back the next day, along with 300 other students. Media coverage of this event, specifically television coverage, increased the protest’s influence. 

The protests went on from Feb. 1 to July 25. The effects of the Greensboro sit-ins contributed to the civil rights movement, and by the end of March of 1960, “the movement had spread to 55 cities in 13 states” according to History. Many individuals were arrested for “trespassing, disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace” but the  “national media coverage of the sit-ins brought increasing attention to the civil rights movement.” 

By the end of July of 1960, many formerly segregated spaces, like Woolworth’s, became integrated. Not only that, but the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded in North Carolina in April that same year. The SNCC was influential and critical to the civil rights movement, in that it organized Freedom Rides in the South in 1961 as well as the March on Washington in 1963 where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Also, in association with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) they worked towards what became the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ending segregation in public places and employment discrimination. 

While segregation seems like something of the distant past, it was only eradicated 55 years ago. Most Millennial and Gen Z parents are 55 years old, and to think that segregation is as old (or rather, as young) as our parents really places the timeline of the Civil Rights movement into perspective. Segregation was not something that was hundreds of years ago, like a medieval or archaic society. 

While segregation has been abolished, racism still occurs today but in different forms. One could argue that this racism has shapeshifted to police brutality, microaggressions, stereotypes, violence, unequal educational and employment opportunities, and hatred in general. 

Thankfully, the rise of social media since the 1960s has allowed society to hold more individuals accountable for their actions. This is not to say that racism is not evident in today’s society, of course it is, but through social media and greater access to information since the 1960s, we can bring social awareness to and erode the stereotypes surrounding minorities. 

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