On Feb 1, 1960, four freshmen from NC A&T University staged the first sit-in protest of the Civil Rights movement in Greensboro, North Carolina. Fed up with racial segregation, the young black men settled in at the “whites only” lunch counter at the F.W. Woolworth store on Elm Street. Ignoring the pleas of store management and harassment of hecklers, the men remained seated until the store closed early to end the chaos. The ”Greensboro Four” sparked months of peaceful demonstrations in Greensboro and across the country, prompting the downtown Woolworth store to integrate its lunch counter in July. Though many establishments still refused to integrate, the first sit-in launched a national movement of non-violent protests including “swim-ins” at segregated swimming pools and “read-ins” at segregated libraries.
The historic Woolworth building reopened in 2010 as the International Civil Rights Museum, a project 17 years in the making after the store closed in 1993. I previously wrote about my visit to the museum with my mother, a Greensboro native who witnessed the civil rights demonstrations as a child. The multimedia tour revealed the turbulent struggle for racial equality, also unveiling the restored lunch counter and stools occupied by the Greensboro Four. Even without entering the museum, you can follow in the footsteps of the young men inspiring a social revolution fifty-three years ago. The sidewalk tribute along Elm Street captures a pivotal day in Greensboro and national history, when four students risked their own freedom to fight hatred with courage.