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Race in America

February 1960 sit-ins move to Raleigh, N.C.

The lunch counter sit-ins that began at the Greensboro Woolworth’s on February 1, 1960, quickly spread across the state. Following demonstrations in Winston-Salem, Charlotte, Durham, Fayetteville, the movement landed in Raleigh on February 10.

Writers Charles Craven and David Cooper covered the event.

Some 150 boys and girls took part in the demonstration against white-only food service at eight stores, but the only immediate result of their action was the quick closing of all lunch counters.

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The only incidents in connection with the protest movement were the tossing of one egg and the heckling of students by teenagers and other whites.

Ironically, the demonstration came at the same time when Negro church leaders of Raleigh were meeting with white store operators to work out a peaceful solution to the problem....

The Raleigh sitdown demonstrations began about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at Woolworth’s downtown store. It moved on to other stores -- McLellan’s, Hudson-Belk, Kress, Eckerd’s Drug Store, Cromley’s Sir Walter Drug Stores, and Woolworth’s in Cameron Village -- and in each place the lunch counters were immediately closed when the Negro students asked for services.

Signs, apparently prepared beforehand, were quickly brought out and put on display. They read: “Closed in the Interest of Public Safety,” “Luncheonette Temporarily Closed,” and “We Reserve the Right to Serve the Public As We See Fit.”

Lunch counters in several places were roped off and “No Trespassing” signs were hung....

Mayor W. G. Enloe and City Councilman Paul Hooyer were at the entrance of Walgreen’s Drug Store shortly after the demonstration began. Enloe told a reporter that he had no comment at that time. He later issued a statement in which he said: “It is regrettable that some of our young Negro students would risk endangering Raleigh’s friendly and cooperative race relations by seeking to change a long-standing custom in a manner that is all but destined to fail....”

A heavy red-faced man, arms crossed and a cigar burning in one hand, stood placidly near one of the doors at the downtown Woolworth store. Inside, a conglomeration of people milled about. A coed from one of the Negro colleges started out the door where the man stood. The coed wore a tan sweater and as she went through the door, the man unfolded his arms and raked the burning cigar across the back of her sweater.

“Did you burn it?” the girl asked mildly.

The red-faced man looked back upon the scene in the store, grinning now and arms crossed once more, giving her no answer.

Unnoticed by him, a large portion of the cigar’s fire flicked from the girl’s sweater into the crook of his folded right arm.

A bystander watched as a thin stream of smoke curled from his burning coat sleeve.

The wholesale shutdown of lunch counters, coming at noontime, posed an eating problem for State employees and other downtown workers. Unusually long lines of customers turned up at Ballentine’s and the S&W Cafeteria. -- The News & Observer 2/11/1960

The demonstrations went on for several days. On February 12, the management of Cameron Village, “Raleigh’s big model shopping and apartment center,” had 41 students arrested for trespassing. The following week, two white men were arrested, charged with assault, following an encounter with the students.

One of the white men and a Shaw University student exchanged blows after a protest placard was snatched from a Negro student’s hands....

The first outbreak of physical violence in the eight-day-old demonstration... occurred about 3 p.m.m on Fayetteville Street. An area in front of Eckerd’s Drug Store, Woolworth’s and McLellan’s was crowded with young white men, and some older men who heckled the Negro protests...

Mrs. Elizabeth Miller, who was visiting in Raleigh, told the white crowd, which included boys and girls of school age, that they were wrong in abusing the Negroes.

“You’re going about this in the wrong way,” Mrs. Miller said. “I’m as much a segregationist as you are, but I believe you should meet courtesy with courtesy.” -- The N&O 2/18/1960

National Coverage. Local Perspectives.

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