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St. Paul's College students boycott segregated Virginia movie theater, USA, 1960
St. Paul’s College is a historically African American college in Lawrenceville, a town in rural Virginia. Although Lawrenceville was a predominantly African American town, segregation laws persisted. In 1960 only 750 of the 17,000 African Americans in the town paid their poll tax and registered to vote. The town lacked a branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a black lawyer, or a black bondsman.
Inspired by the Greensboro and Rock Hill sit-ins in 1960, seven students at St. Paul’s proposed the idea of campaigning to change the segregated policies of the town to a council of faculty and students. While the administration supported the goals of the students, they opposed the idea of sit-ins and picketing, believing it to be dangerous. Therefore, the student group decided to refrain from open confrontation and instead to boycott the local white-owned movie theater because of its segregated seating policy. The students’ goal was to continue the boycott until the management agreed to let people sit wherever they’d like. In addition to boycotting the movie theater, the group of students set up a Fund for Equal Rights and collected about two hundred and fifty dollars to support activities elsewhere.
The administration of the college established an alternative movie theater on campus that offered viewings of the same movies at lower prices. The movie theater lost customers as a result of the boycott and in the spring of 1960, the theater was on the edge of closure.
Over time, however, the students’ own enthusiasm for the boycott fell off and by fall 1960 they were returning to the movie theater in town.
The theater remained segregated and the campaign was abandoned.