Women’s Sit-In Charlotte Woolworth
The first sit-in took place in Greensboro, North Carolina, on February 1, 1960. On February 9, students from Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte staged a second sit-in at a number of downtown lunch counters.
I rushed down to photograph the sit-in at Woolworth’s and was astonished that really not much was going on. I entered the store with my cameras at ready while figuring that the manager would be there any moment to throw me out, so I grabbed some quick shots. I noticed that the last waitress was leaving with her uniform still on. Everyone was sitting around waiting for something to happen, but there were no police, no waitresses, and no store manager. And, of course, there was no service. I was certain the police would arrive posthaste, and I would certainly be told to leave. The lunch counter remained closed. No one would serve the young African Americans who were not allowed at that time to sit at the counter. It was apparent they all were wearing their best clothes, all were polite and orderly, and they were not even really talking with one another. They were just waiting peacefully to see what would happen.
I walked back outside and saw a fire engine parked on the side of the street with firemen sitting on the back of the truck casually smoking. I suspect they had been placed there to call the police if they were needed. But there was absolutely no disturbance of any kind; therefore, no call to the police was made. Before holding the sit-ins, students had talked with Charlotte Police Chief Jesse James about their plans and promised to remain orderly. The chief believed them, and he was correct.
Noticing another lunch counter just a short distance up Tryon Street, I walked there and found three female students sitting at the counter. They were well dressed, quiet, and waiting for service that would never arrive––that day, anyway. I took their picture also.
It was an important time. And Charlotte had a great advantage over Birmingham, Alabama, where racial violence erupted as in a war. Birmingham had done it all wrong, but Charlotte–with Police Chief Jesse James in charge–handled it correctly.
Harry Golden, editor of the Carolina Israelite, a Jewish newspaper in Charlotte, suggested that the solution was simple. They could just remove the chairs and everyone could simply eat together standing up.
But we didn’t have to use this technique. State politicians and local store owners including Belk and Ivy’s department stores realized that times were changing and that integration was coming, and the best thing to do was accept it.
In July, Charlotte’s lunch counters, restaurants, movie theaters, and some other public places had been integrated after a difficult, sometimes trying, but predominantly peaceful civil rights movement.
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