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University students campaign for racial integration in Charlotte, NC, 1960
During a period of five months in the spring of 1960, students and adults in Charlotte, North Carolina, participated in the sit-in movement to protest segregation. It was an attempt to end racial segregation in the public facilities in the city of Charlotte. The city government was the opposition.
Although Charlotte served as one of the more integrated cities in the South, some of it remained segregated at the start of 1960. Specifically, theaters, restaurants, public swimming pools, and the junior college were not integrated. The city itself contained a large African American population, approximately 27% of the entire population. The presence of a historically black university, Johnson C. Smith University, in the city of Charlotte certainly added to the ratio.
Sit-ins to protest segregation became widely popular in the South following the famous campaign in Greensboro, in which four Black students sat at a “whites only” lunch counter, waiting to be served (see “Greensboro, NC, students sit-in for U.S. Civil Rights, 1960”). This took place on February 1, 1960. It was on Thursday, February 9, 1960, that this form of non-violent resistance was used in Charlotte, North Carolina.
On February 9, approximately 100 Smith University students staged sit-ins at eight different stores in downtown Charlotte. Joseph Charles Jones, a 22-year-old theological student led the students. Jones was skilled in the technique of nonviolence.
The protests escalated, and on February 10, larger groups of students gathered at various stores in the downtown area, up to forty per group. While the college fully supported the sit-ins, the black community was a bit skeptical of the strategy being used. Though the organizers were not specifically using violent methods, many people believed it was a form of agitation that would only result in violent tactics from the opposition.
Students held off from the sit-ins after the first four days of action, resuming a few days later after receiving immense support from the Catawba Presbytery, a local religious organization. But the protests stopped once again on the 19th. The protests quickly resumed only a day later, when the Negro Methodist Ministerial Alliance provided its own support.
On February 23, police arrested multiple students after a demonstration at Belk’s Department store. Students sat at a door, repeatedly chanting the word “freedom”, and persons on the scene allegedly started to shove each other. Police only arrested the black students who were involved. On February 27, police arrested another black student. Other black students brought complaints of these arrests to City Council.
Soon after, students elected Jones President of the Student Protest Movement. Sit-ins resumed on March 18. Still, merchants refused to cooperate in the negotiation process with the protesters. On April 14, the first white person, a Northerner, joined the actions. Jones was hesitant to let the campaign get out of hand and did not necessarily want Northerners to get involved. By reducing outside interference, Jones sought to eliminate antagonism.
In May, students called off their sit-ins. The town established a Mayor’s Committee; the Committee then tried to open negotiations. Most negotiations worked but two department stores (Ivey’s and Belk Brothers) had not finished their negotiations. On June 22nd, students resumed sit-in demonstrations. In addition, Charlotte African-Americans used other tactics. They boycotted the entire downtown shopping area, which damaged Charlotte’s economy.
Students utilized various tactics throughout the summer, including boycotts, pickets, and sit-ins. On June 23, a group of ministers from Catawba Presbytery joined the pickets. On June 27, a white pastor by the name of Sidney L. Freeman joined the pickets, along with other white men and women.
The final phase occurred in the first week of July. On July 2, the chairman of the Mayor’s Committee told the protesters to hold off, and an agreement would follow. Just two days later, the Committee agreed to integrate lunch counters. Finally, on July 9, fifteen black students were served at a formerly “whites only” lunch counter. The success continued when some public parks and swimming pools were integrated as well. Later on, movie theaters, suburban shopping center lunch counters, and Charlotte and Carver Colleges were also integrated.