Black students sit-in for U.S. civil rights, Marshall, Texas, 1960

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Time Period:  
26 March
3 April
Location and Goals
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Marshall, Texas
To desegregate lunch counters in downtown Marshall.

Marshall, Texas, despite having a black majority, practiced public and private racial segregation like most of the South in the 1950’s. The town included two historically black colleges: Bishop College and Wiley College.

On 19 December 1959, Bishop College professor Dr. Doxie Wilkerson, along with Wiley College students Joel Rucker, Roosevelt Peabody, and George Holmes, attended a meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The goal was to begin to campaign for desegregation by conducting sit-ins in the town of Marshall and other cities throughout the South. This plan pre-dated the Greensboro, N.C. sit-in on 1 February 1960 that famously launched the sit-in movement of the early 1960s.

On 16 January 1960 Wilkerson began recruiting students at both black colleges to train in sit-in tactics. In February a number of campuses launched sit-in campaigns in North Carolina and elsewhere. On 17 March Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at Wiley College about the right to protest and sit-in.

After King’s speech students organized more intensely for their campaign. They established procedures for forming groups and taking shifts in the sit-in.

On Friday 26 March, nine students and Wilkerson began the sit-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter. The manager closed the store in 30 minutes and reopened the store once the group left. Another group of students re-entered the store and stayed until closing. During the sit-in other students showed support with signs outside. On campus they sang to lift their spirits.

On 29 March, students staged their second day of sit-ins. Police took 25 students for questioning and released them with the warning that if the sit-ins continued police would begin arrests.

The sit-ins continued the next day. Police arrested 20 students at three different lunch counters for interfering with businesses.

In response students gathered in front of the courthouse and sang. A crowd of white people gathered, and in a few hours grew restless. In an effort to clear the group, the city fire department unleashed hoses of high pressure water at the demonstrators and several bystanders. Police arrested 37 more students in the process.

On 31 March, a crowd of 350 students met at the bell tower of Wiley College for prayer and songs in support of those still in jail. Later that day, the student leaders announced a boycott of white merchants.

Meanwhile, Texas Governor Price Daniel ordered an investigation of Dr. Wilkerson after discovering his former ties to the Communist Party. Within a week the Bishop College president fired Wilkerson.

The next day rumors of an imminent parade of civil rights demonstrators brought large crowds of white people, both local and non-local, downtown. The parade never happened, but the crowd remained tense without demonstrators. Several men from out of town brought attack dogs to unleash on the demonstrators, and police promptly forced the men to leave.

By the beginning of April the number of students participating in the sit-ins was declining. On 2 April the presidents of both Wiley and Bishop College released statements calling for the end of demonstrations.

Bishop College students withdrew first, and Wiley College students followed the next day, ending the sit-in campaign on 3 April. Discussion about a boycott continued, but a lack of support from the greater black community in Marshall left the boycott ineffective.

On 7 April, trials began for 35 students arrested earlier, including testimony regarding Wilkerson’s involvement in the sit-ins. Students trials went on for months due to appeals until 16 August, when the students’ attorney and a student died in a car accident and the city dismissed all cases.

Over the summer, Wiley College president fired the entire teaching staff except for those who supported the administration during the sit-ins. Businesses quietly removed all lunch counters in Marshall, and more than 35 years passed before the lunch counters came back.

Research Notes

The student leaders were influenced by initial meetings between the NAACP and the SCLC to organize sit-ins through students of all-black colleges.

The Wiley-Bishop Student Movement: A Case Study in the 1960 Civil Rights Sit-Ins Donald Seals Jr. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 106, No. 3 (Jan., 2003), pp. 418-440 Texas State Historical Association

Article Stable URL:

Press, Associated. "Marshall Firm Closes in Face of Sitdowns." Victoria Advocate [Victoria] 27 May 1960, 8B. Web. 6 Apr. 2014. <,449785>.

Press, Associated. "Counter Demonstrators in Marshall Threatened." Victoria Advocate [Victoria] 29 May 1960, 10. Web. 6 Apr. 2014. <>.

Press, Associated. "Texas Negro Assembly is Scattered by Fire Hoses." Gettysburg Times [Gettysburg] 31 May 1960, 11. Web. 6 Apr. 2014. <>.

Press, Associated. "Marshall Pulses Uneasily Beneath Enforced Truce." Victoria Advocate [Victoria] 1 Apr 1960, 5. Web. 6 Apr. 2014. <>.

Press, Associated. "Texas Merchants Moving to Counteract a Boycott." The Tuscaloosa News [Tuscaloosa] 4 Apr 1960, 2. Web. 6 Apr. 2014. <>.

Press, Associated. "Outside Interest Eyed in Marshall." Victoria Advocate [Victoria] 5 Apr 1960, 12. Web. 6 Apr. 2014. <>.

"Harrison County Historical Museum: Marshall's Civil Rights Sit-ins`." Harrison County Museum. Web. 6 Apr 2014. <>.

Richardson, Terri. "Sit-ins in Marshall were a 'moment of truth'." Marshall News Messenger [Marshall] 19 Feb 2011, n. pag. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Kerry Robinson 06/04/2014