2 On The Road Blog

After 12 years of full-time rving, we've sold our truck and trailer but we're still traveling. Email us at wowpegasus@hotmail.com if you would like to contact us.

Friday, July 18, 2014

International Civil Rights Museum - Greensboro, NC

The International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro, NC is located on the site of the 1960 sit-in by blacks at the “whites-only” lunch counter. In order to understand how revolutionary of an act this was, I will give you a little of the history that lead to the subjugation of blacks in the US south. After the Civil War that was fought over the issue of slavery, the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude. Then the Civil Rights Act of 1866 was signed into law. This act defined US citizenship and affirmed that all citizens were equally protectd by the law. The 14th Amendments to the Constitution was adopted in 1868 to further define citizenship rights and equal protection of the laws. In 1870, the 15th amendment provided that all male US citizens were entitled to vote.

When reconstructed ended in 1877, southern states, cities and local governments adopted “Jim Crow” laws that mandated racial segregation in all public facilities in Southern states of the former Confederacy. These laws called for "separate but equal" status for African Americans. In practice, these led to conditions for African Americans that tended to be inferior to those provided for white Americans. These laws also required that blacks pay a fee and take a test before being allowed to vote. Whites didn't have to do either of these things.

Some examples of Jim Crow laws are the segregation of public schools, public places, public transportation, and the segregation of restrooms, restaurants, and drinking fountains for whites and blacks. The U.S. Military and jobs in federal agencies were also segregated. President Woodrow Wilson, the first Southern president since 1856, had his administration practiced overt racial discrimination in hiring, requiring candidates to submit photos.

In Montgomery, AL in 1955 Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white person. This I knew about. What I didn't know is that black people refused to use the buses for over 300 days until the city transit board desegregated the buses.

We saw The Green Book that guided blacks to lodging, restaurants and other business that were open to blacks. They couldn't stop at just anywhere for service.

Segregation ended gradually starting in 1954 when state-sponsored school segregation was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States in Brown v. Board of Education. Resistant was fierce and black children were spit on so much that they could wring the spit out of their clothing when they came home. Think about that! Generally, the remaining Jim Crow laws were overruled by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Enactment of laws didn't stop all segregation. Non-violent acts like sit-ins were practiced by both blacks and whites to push the issue into the media spotlight. On February 1, 1960 four students from the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University sat down at the whites-only lunch counter inside the Woolworth store in Greensboro, North Carolina. These men were later known as the A&T Four or the Greensboro Four. Following store policy, the lunch counter staff refused to serve the black men at the "whites only" counter and the store's manager asked them to leave. The four university freshmen – Ezell Blair, Jr. (later known as Jibreel Khazan), Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain and David Richmond – stayed until the store closed and were repeatedly refused service.

Media coverage had been arranged so news of this event spread. The next day the sit-in grew. More than twenty black students, who were recruited from other campus groups, came to the store to join the four. Some of the students were from Bennett College, a college for black women in Greensboro. White customers heckled the black students, who read books and studied to keep busy. The lunch counter staff continued to refuse service.

Day by day the sit-in continued and the group size continued to increase. Woolworth national headquarters issued a statement saying the company would "abide by local custom" and maintain its segregated policy.

This sit-in propped students in other North Carolina towns launched their own sit-ins. Demonstrations spread to towns near Greensboro, then around the whole state and soon out into other Southern cities. The sit-ins spread to other Greensboro stores that had segregated lunch counters. Sales at the boycotted stores dropped by a third, leading the stores' owners to abandon their segregation policies. Woolworth's requested that their black employees put on civilian clothing and these people became the first to be served at the store's lunch counter. The thinking was that the white employees would be more willing to serve these people that they knew. This event occurred on Monday, July 25, 1960. That Woolworth store was desegregated, serving blacks and whites alike, although Woolworth lunch counters in other Tennessee cities continued to be segregated until around 1965.

The street to the south of the store was renamed in commemoration of the day the sit-in started.  We were not allowed to take photos inside the museum.  It had many more examples of some of the segregation laws and the fierce resistance to desegregation including one room of examples from other countries.  We looked up information on the Greensboro Four and found out that all four have since passed away.  The last two in December 2013 and July 2014.

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