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In sit-ins, protesters usually seat themselves at a strategic location (inside a restaurant, in a street to block it, in a government or corporate office, and so on). They remain until they are evicted, usually by force, or arrested, or until their requests have been met. Sit-ins have historically been a highly successful form of protest because they cause disruption that draws attention to the protest and by proxy the protesters' cause. They are a non-violent way to effectually shut down an area or business. The forced removal of protesters, and sometimes the use of violence against them, often arouses sympathy from the public, increasing the chances of the demonstrators reaching their audience.
Sit-ins were an integral part of the nonviolent strategy of civil disobedience and mass protests that eventually led to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which ended legally-sanctioned racial segregation in the United States and also passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that struck down many racially-motivated barriers used to deny voting rights to non-whites.
The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) conducted sit-ins as early as the 1940s. Ernest Calloway refers to Bernice Fisher as "Godmother of the restaurant 'sit-in' technique."1 In August, 1939, African-American attorney Samuel Wilbert Tucker organized a sit-in at the then-segregated Alexandria, Virginia library.2 Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) labor delegates had a brief, spontaneous lunch counter sit-in during their 1947 Columbus, Ohio convention.3
In one of the earliest racially-connected sit-ins, followers of Father Divine and the International Peace Mission Movement joined with the Cafeteria Workers Union, Local 302, in September 1939 to protest racially unfair hiring practices at New York's Shack Sandwich Shops, Inc. According to the New York Times for Sep 23, 1939,4 on Thursday between 75 and 100 followers showed up at the restaurant at Forty-first Street and Lexington Avenue, where most of the strike activity has been concentrated, and groups went into the place, purchased five-cent cups of coffee, and conducted what might be described as a kind of customers' nickel sit down strike. Other patrons were unable to find seats."5
In May 1942, James Farmer, Jr., an organizer for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, led a group of 27 people to protest the racially discriminatory no service policy of the Jack Spratt Diner on 47th Street in Chicago. Each seating area in the diner was taken by groups that included at least one black person. The peaceful patrons, several from the campus of the nearby University of Chicago, then tried to order; all were refused. The police were called, but when they arrived they told the management that no laws were being broken, so no arrests were made. The diner closed for the night but thereafter, according to periodic checks made by CORE activists, it no longer enforced its discriminatory policy.6
With the encouragement of Melvin B. Tolson and Farmer, students from Wiley and Bishop Colleges organized the first sit-ins in Texas in the rotunda of the Harrison County Courthouse in Marshall, Texas. This sit-in directly challenged the oldest White Citizens Party in Texas and would culminate in the reversal of Jim Crow laws in the state and the desegregation of postgraduate studies in Texas by the Sweatt v. Painter (1950) verdict. Sit-ins were an integral part of the nonviolent strategy of civil disobedience and mass protests that eventually led to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which ended legally-sanctioned racial segregation in the United States and also passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that struck down many racially-motivated barriers used to deny voting rights to non-whites.
In one of the earliest sit-ins of the American Civil Rights Movement, the "Royal Seven," a group of three women and four men from Durham, North Carolina sat in at the Royal Ice Cream Parlor on June 23, 1957 to protest practices of segregation.7 The activists were arrested and charged with trespassing. Their efforts are now recognized via historical markers in the town of Durham, North Carolina. They went to court three times; each case ended in their being found guilty.
The second organized lunch-counter sit-in for the purpose of integrating segregated establishments began in July 1958 in Wichita, Kansas at Dockum Drugs, a store in the old Rexall chain.8 In early August the drugstore became integrated. A few weeks later on August 19, 1958 in Oklahoma City a nationally recognized sit-in at the Katz Drug Store lunch counter occurred. The Oklahoma City Sit-in Movement was led by NAACP Youth Council leader Clara Luper, a local high school teacher, and young local students, including Luper's eight-year old daughter, who suggested the Sit-in be held. The group quickly desegregated the Katz Drug Store lunch counters. It took several more years, but she and the students, using the tactic, integrated all of Oklahoma City's eating establishments. Today, in downtown Wichita, Kansas, a statue depicting a waitress at a counter serving people honors this pioneering sit-in.
Following the Oklahoma City sit-ins, the tactic of non-violent student sit-ins spread. The Greensboro Sit-Ins at a Woolworth's in Greensboro, North Carolina, on February 1, 1960 launched a wave of anti-segregation sit-ins across the South and opened a national awareness of the depth of segregation in the nation.9 Within weeks, sit-in campaigns had begun in nearly a dozen cities, primarily targeting Woolworth's and S. H. Kress and other stores of other national chains.10
The largest and best-organized of these campaigns were the Nashville sit-ins, whose groundwork was already underway. They involved hundreds of participants, and led to the successful desegregation of Nashville lunch counters.11 Most of the participants in the Nashville sit-ins were college students, and many, such as Diane Nash, James Bevel, Bernard Lafayette, and C.T. Vivian, went on to lead, strategize, and direct almost every aspect of the nation's Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. The students of the Historically black colleges and universities in the city played a critical role in implementing the Nashville sit-ins.
- Bed-In, peace campaigns by John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1969
- Human Be-In
- Occupation (protest)
- Sitdown strike
- Raasta roko
- OF TIME AND SOUND, Requiem For A Free, Compassionate Spirit, by Ernest Galloway, published in Missouri Teamster, May 12, 1966, Page 7.
- "America's First Sit-Down Strike: The 1939 Alexandria Library Sit-In". City of Alexandria. Retrieved 2009-08-22.
- (NYT Mar 17, 1947: 16)
- "DIVINE'S FOLLOWERS GIVE AID TO STRIKERS: With Evangelist's Sanction They 'Sit Down' in Restaurant". New York Times. 23 Sep 1939. Retrieved 7 March 2012.
- "DIVINE'S FOLLOWERS GIVE AID TO STRIKERS; With Evangelist's Sanction They 'Sit Down' in Restaurant". New York Times (US). 1939-09-23. Retrieved 2010-07-20.
- Grossman, Ron (February 24, 2014). "Birth of the sit-in". Chicago Tribune (1). p. 17.
- Royal Ice Cream Sit-in — Durham, NC ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
- First Southern Sit-in, Greensboro NC ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
- Sit-ins Spread Across the South ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
- Nashville Student Movement ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sit-ins.|
- Award Winning Documentary: "February One" tells the inspiring story surrounding the 1960 Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins that helped revitalize the Civil Rights Movement
- Sit-In: A Tactical Analysis, By Aaron Kreider – Essay based on research on student sit-ins.
- National Young Lords- Brief notes on the origins of the Young Lords
- Almost-Forgotten History – Story of the Wichita Dockum sit-ins
- Civil Rights Movement Veterans Civil Rights Movement Veterans ~ History, personal stories, and photos of the Freedom Movement