In the fall of 1959, four young men (Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr. and David Richmond) enrolled as freshmen at North Carolina A&T University. The four young men quickly became a close-knit group and met every evening in their dorm rooms for "bull sessions". It was during these nightly discussions that they considered challenging the institution of segregation.

The breaking point for the group came after Christmas vacation when Joseph McNeil was returning to N.C. A&T after spending the holidays at home in New York. McNeil was denied service at a Greyhound bus station in Greensboro. McNeil?s frustrating experience was shared by the group, and they were willing to make the necessary sacrifices - even if it meant their own lives - to provoke change in society.

On that final night in January 1960 in Scott Hall, the four friends challenged each other to stop talking and take action. They didn't realize the journey they would take the next day would ignite a movement, change a nation and inspire a world.


MONDAY, FEB. 1, 1960

Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr. and David Richmond (The Greensboro Four) entered the F.W. Woolworth store in Greensboro, N.C., around 4:30 p.m. and purchased merchandise at several counters. They sat down at the store's "whites only" lunch counter and ordered coffee, and were denied service, ignored and then asked to leave. They remained seated at the counter until the store closed early at 5 p.m. The four friends immediately returned to campus and recruited others for the cause.

TUESDAY, FEB. 2, 1960

Twenty-five men, including the four freshmen, along with four women returned to the F.W. Woolworth store. The students sat from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. while white patrons heckled them. Undaunted, they sat with books and study materials to keep them busy. They were still refused service.

Reporters from both newspapers, a TV camera man and Greensboro police officers monitored the scene. Once the sit-ins hit the news, momentum picked up and students across the community embraced the movement. That night, students met with college officials and concerned citizens. They organized the Student Executive Committee for Justice to plan the continued demonstrations. This committee sent a letter to the president of F.W. Woolworth in New York requesting that his company "take a firm stand to eliminate discrimination". Meanwhile, at its regular monthly meeting, the NAACP voted in unanimous support of the students' efforts.


More than 60 students, one-third of them female, returned to the Greensboro store and sat down at every available lunch counter seat. Students from Bennett College and Dudley High School increased the number of protesters, and many carpooled to and from the F.W. Woolworth store to sit-in shifts.

Members of the Ku Klux Klan, including the state's official chaplain George Dorsett, were present. White patrons taunted the students as they studied. A statement issued from F.W. Woolworth's national headquarters read that company policy was "to abide by local custom".

THURSDAY, FEB. 4, 1960

More than 300 students participate in the protests. Students from N.C. A&T, Bennett College and Dudley High School occupied every seat at the lunch counter. Three white supporters (Genie Seaman, Marilyn Lott and Ann Dearsley) from the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina (now UNCG), joined the protest. As tensions grew, police kept the crowd in check. Waiting students then marched to the basement lunch counter at S.H. Kress & Co., the second store targeted by the Student Executive Committee, and the Greensboro sit-ins spread.

That evening, student leaders, college administrators and representatives from F.W. Woolworth and Kress stores held talks. The stores refused to integrate as long as other downtown facilities remained segregated. Students insisted the F.W. Woolworth and Kress retail stores would remain targets, and the meeting ended without resolution.

FRIDAY, FEB. 5, 1960

Tensions mounted early in the day when 50 white males were seated at the Woolworth counter. Sit-in participants, including white students from area colleges, filled the dozen or so remaining seats. Police removed two white youth from the store for swearing and yelling. By 3 p.m., more than 300 people were present. Members of both races were escorted from the premises. Three whites were arrested and the store closed at 5:30 pm.

Store representatives, students and college officials met once again that evening. F.W. Woolworth personnel took issue with the students limiting their protests to two stores and asked college administrators to end the sit-ins. Administrators plainly stated they could not control the private activities of students. Some administrators recommended store officials consider temporarily closing the counters. The meeting adjourned after two hours of debate.

SATURDAY, FEB. 6, 1960

Early that morning, more than 1,400 N.C. A&T students met in Harrison Auditorium. After voting to continue the protest, many headed to the F.W. Woolworth store. They filled every seat as the store opened. A large number of counter protesters showed up as well. By noon, more than 1,000 people packed the store.

At 1 p.m., a caller warned a bomb was set to explode at 1:30 p.m. The crowd moved to the Kress store, which immediately closed. Arrests were made outside both stores. The F.W. Woolworth store was cleared and closed as the the manager announced the temporary closing of the lunch counter in the interest of public safety.

That evening at N.C. A&T, a mass rally of 1,600 students voted to suspend demonstrations for two weeks. Dean William Gamble proclaimed this would give the stores time "to set policies regarding food service for Negro students".

FEB. 8 - 14 1960

On Monday, students in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Durham, N.C., held sit-ins to demonstrate their solidarity with Greensboro students. Sit-in protests quickly followed in North Carolina cities such as Charlotte, Raleigh, Fayetteville and High Point. The movement also gained momentum and spread to Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and even F.W. Woolworth stores in New York City.

FEB. 15 - 21 1960

Edward R. Zane, a member of the Greensboro City Council, worked with students to reach a compromise. The Mayor agreed to appoint a committee to address the issue, and the protestors agreed to continue negotiations. Several Greensboro associations, including The Board of Directors of the Greensboro Council of Church Women, the YWCA and several ministerial alliances came out in favor of integration.

FEB. 22 - 28 1960

The lunch counters at F.W. Woolworth and Kress stores reopened, but were still segregated. Greensboro Mayor George H. Roach introduced the Greensboro Advisory Committee on Community Relations representing the City Council, the Chamber of Commerce and the Merchants Association. Chairman Ed Zane worked to increase public support for integration of lunch counters, encouraging people to write and express their opinions on the racial situation.

By the end of February, the sit-in movement had spread to more than 30 cities in eight states.

MARCH 1960

Of the 2,000 citizen letters the Advisory Committee received, 73 percent favored integrated lunch counters. The hotly debated topic was constantly in the news. The Greensboro Record reported a letter signed by 68 white citizens urged that "service to all customers at the lunch counters in these stores be entirely on a 'first come, first served' basis, just as it is in other areas of these establishments." Chairman Zane and the Advisory Committee held numerous meetings with representatives from F.W. Woolworth, Kress and other downtown businesses. All refused to integrate. On March 31, a disappointed Edward Zane met with student leaders to break the news.

By the end of March, the sit-in Movement had spread to 55 cities in 13 states.

APRIL 1960


Students resumed sit-in activities at the Kress and F.W. Woolworth stores and began picketing on Elm and Sycamore streets. That evening at a mass meeting, more than 1,200 students pledged to continue the protests.


Both the F.W. Woolworth and Kress stores officially closed their lunch counters.


Speaking at Bennett College, NAACP legal council Thurgood Marshall urged attendees not to compromise. The protests strengthened after an economic boycott of the two stores was organized by local leaders.

APRIL 16 - 17, 1960

Easter weekend, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) organized a meeting of sit-in students from all over the nation at Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C. Leader Ella Baker encouraged students to form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced "snick") to organize the effort.


Forty-five students (including Ezell Blair, Jr., Joseph McNeil, David Richmond and 13 Bennett College students) were arrested for trespassing as they sat at the Kress store lunch counter. All were released without bail.

JUNE 1960

When N.C. A&T and Bennett College students left the Greensboro for the summer, Dudley High School students took up the charge. William Thomas led the students as the protests expanded to Meyers and Walgreens.

JULY 1960


F.W. Woolworth manager Clarence Harris met with Chairman Zane and the Advisory Committee in his store. He informed them that F.W. Woolworth's would soon serve all properly dressed and well-behaved people. Kress manager H.E. Hogate was present.

MONDAY, JULY 25, 1960

F.W. Woolworth employees Charles Bess, Mattie Long, Susie Morrison and Jamie Robinson are the first African-Americans to eat at the lunch counter. The headline of The Greensboro Record read "Lunch Counters Integrated Here".

The Kress counter opened to all on the same day.

TUESDAY, JULY 26, 1960

F.W. Woolworth's is desegregated.

By August 1961, more than 70,000 people had participated in sit-ins, which resulted in more than 3,000 arrests. Sit-ins at "whites only" lunch counters inspired subsequent kneel-ins at segregated churches, sleep-ins at segregated motel lobbies, swim-ins at segregated pools, wade-ins at segregated beaches, read-ins at segregated libraries, play-ins at segregated parks and watch-ins at segregated movies.

America would never be the same.

Data Sources: BURRIS, Greensboro Historical Museum, F.D. Bluford Library Archives, North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, Lewis Brandon, Paul Gaston, Jack Moebes, Sit-In Movement, Inc. and International Civil Rights Center & Museum staff.