High Point high school students sit-in for U.S. civil rights, 1960

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Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
The sit-in officially ended on February 18, but the focus later shifted towards desegregating a local movie theatre. Also, a different group restarted the sit-ins on April 5, 1960.
February 11
February 18
Location and Goals
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
High Point, North Carolina
To integrate the eating establishments in High Point, North Carolina. "Our aim is to be treated like citizens - to eat like anyone else." (Quote from Andrew Dennis McBride found in the Baltimore Afro-American, published February 23, 1960)

High Point, North Carolina was a city viewed as progressive on racial relations, but the black community felt alienated as nearly all of High Point’s public institutions were segregated.

On 1 February 1960, a group of four college students began a sit-in at a Woolworth’s in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina. News spread quickly to High Point, about 16 miles away.

In a few days, Mary Lou Andrews, a 15-year-old student at the all-black William Penn High School, began meeting with friends to stage a sit-in at High Point as well. She approached local Reverend Benjamin Elton Cox and a retired teacher, Miriam Fountain. After some hesitation due to their age, Cox agreed to train the students in nonviolent resistance at his church.

The group remained small, as it was difficult to find other students completely committed to using nonviolence. Soon, the group grew to 26 students, 24 from William Penn High as well as the only two black students at High Point High School, Miriam and Brenda Fountain.

On 11 February 1960, the students, led by Cox and joined with Cox’s friends Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and Douglas Moore, walked to a Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown High Point. The store was set up so that blacks and whites could order food, but only whites could eat there. After a signal, the students sat at the empty seats and stood behind seats occupied by white patrons, who quickly left.

The wait staff began making preparations for closing to discourage the students. Meanwhile, a growing crowd of whites arrived shouting verbal abuse. When the store officially closed an hour later, the students marched to the other two lunch counters in town to continue the sit-in.

Shuttlesworth was visiting High Point only to give a sermon. He was so impressed by the resolve of the students, however, that he immediately contacted the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) Atlanta chapter to report on the sit-in and endorse the sit-in strategy as an effective option.

The next day, the students went back to Woolworth’s after school to continue the sit-in. However, a group of white patrons occupied all the seats in what appeared to be a sit-in as well. The students stood behind the white patrons.

At that point another group of whites stood behind the student group. The sitting patrons then stood up and shoved the students back as the other group pushed forward.

The students did not push back. After nearly an hour of shoving, the manager called the police and closed the store.

During the weekend, the students were able to start the sit-in at the moment Woolworth’s opened, and the sit-ins continued with less interference.

About four days into the sit-ins, another group of blacks from the community joined the students in an effort to defend them in case of violence. However, the students were worried that the new group would resort to violence in retaliation. Therefore, the new group did not actually sit-in with the students, but kept watch nearby the store.

The students sit-inners entered the store and continued the sit-in as planned, but upon exiting, a group of whites threw snowballs packed with broken glass and coal at the students. Cans of paint were also tossed on the students.

The group of black allies threw snowballs and other objects back at the attackers and a struggle took place as the students got away with minor injury. The police later broke up the fight.

For the next couple of days, the students did not march or engage in sit-ins. The first Woolworth’s had closed down, and riots between blacks and whites in the community occurred downtown.

Eventually, eighty policeman came out to control the crowds and several people were arrested. The next day, an editorial appeared in the local newspaper, the High Point Enterprise, denouncing the violence.

On 18 February 1960, a day after the editorial was published, Mayor Jesse Washburn created the Human Relations Committee to examine the issues behind the sit-ins. This interracial committee was considered the first of its kind.

The students agreed to stop the sit-ins on the condition that the lunch counters remain closed until the committee reached a decision. Once the stores were closed, the students set their focus on integrating a local movie theatre, The Paramount. The campaign targeting the theatre would take three years, with Andrew McBride and Brenda Fountain as the main organizers.

On 30 March 1960, the Human Relations Committee recommended a 60-day trial period of integration for all store lunch counters. However, the Committee had no enforcing power and the stores refused to integrate.

Meanwhile, many stores, once reopened, had removed bar stools from the lunch counter, which was viewed by the students as an encouraging step. However, store owners still refused service to black patrons, which led to a new round of sit-ins less than a week later, this time with a different and less publicized group of students.

The situation remained uneasy, with continuing negotiations between the students and the Human Relations Committee. By 1963 all lunch counters were integrated.

The black community continued to call for total desegregation of public institutions in High Point, culminating in mass demonstrations and arrests during August 1963 and eventual victory.

Research Notes

The high school students were influenced by the Greensboro sit-in that started earlier that month.

"Lunch Counter Dispute Erupts in Fist Fight," The Miami News, Feb 16, 1960. http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2206&dat=19600216&id=6FoyAAAAIBAJ&sjid=muoFAAAAIBAJ&pg=5446,32425

"Hi' Point Students Won't Halt Sitdowns," Baltimore Afro-American, Feb 23, 1960. http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1715&dat=19600223&id=QJI8AAAAIBAJ&sjid=7SkMAAAAIBAJ&pg=426,10257641

"Trial Recommended," Herald-Journal, Mar 30, 1960. http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1876&dat=19600330&id=13MsAAAAIBAJ&sjid=AswEAAAAIBAJ&pg=7231,4450827

Hampden, Brenda. "Stony the road We Trod: Reflections on 50 Years after the Sit-Ins." Virginia Journal of Social Policy & the Law. 18. (2010): 3-14. Web. 2 Feb. 2014.

Burkins, Glenn. "Too Young to be Afraid." Inside the Q. Q City Metro, 30 Oct 2009. Web. 1 Feb. 2014. <http://www.qcitymetro.com/qcitymetroblog/post.cfm/too-young-to-be-afraid>.

Additional Notes: 
This sit-in is the first sit-in organized by high school students.
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Kerry Robinson, 02/02/2014