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Baltimore students sit-in for U.S. civil rights, 1960
Young people powered a major part of the civil rights movement in the United States. In particular, sit-ins proved to be a powerful tool that students across the country utilized. One of the biggest student sit-ins took place in Baltimore in 1960. The goal of the sit-in was to desegregate department store restaurants. Despite only lasting three weeks, the campaign was very successful.
Baltimore was actually at the forefront of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. By desegregating some areas much earlier than the rest of the country, the city helped set in motion one of the biggest social movements in United States history. Taxi and bus companies began hiring African-Americans in 1951-1952 followed shortly thereafter by a voluntary desegregation of the Baltimore schools. The one exception to this was that department stores, and the restaurants inside them, continued to be very segregated.
Morgan State College students had always played a major role in the civil rights movement in Baltimore and the department store restaurants were no different. Following the successful student sit-ins in Greensboro, NC (see “Greensboro, NC, students sit-in for U.S. Civil Rights, 1960”), the Morgan State students decided to use the same tactics in the restaurants. The local chapter of the Urban League, a group “dedicated to economic empowerment in order to elevate the standard of living in historically underserved urban communities” (http://www.nul.org/who-we-are) offered advice to the students as they felt that unless the students demonstrated at the downtown department store restaurants they would not be successful. To the surprise of the Urban League leaders, the students did not heed their advice, claiming that it was logistically impossible for the students to get downtown. Instead, they staged their first demonstrations at the Northwood Shopping Center.
The Governor’s Commission requested that the students and the department store executives negotiate, but this was not successful. After ten days of sit-ins that caused large amounts of disruption for the business of the restaurants, the department stores acquired an injunction “limiting the students to two pickets at each entrance to the restaurant”. This ultimately helped the students because it gained attention for the campaign, and it made them realize that they should heed the advice of the Urban League. They ultimately moved their protests to the downtown department store restaurants.
The students received a great amount of support from the community. Something particularly important about these demonstrations was the fact that whites became very involved and supported the students’ efforts. Something else that greatly helped the students was the fact that they were always polite and orderly, with even the police commenting on the fact that they had very few problems with the students.
The president of the biggest chain of department stores had ordered that his restaurants be closed should the students try to enter them. The student participation was dwindling, however, so the students agreed to sit down with the president and negotiate. Members of the NAACP and the Urban League accompanied the students to the negotiations; however, this was not necessary as the president immediately agreed to change the policy. In total the campaign lasted three weeks. The support that these students received ranged from “community organizations professionally interested in race relations [to] churches and other voluntary associations whose chief concern was not race relations as such”.