High Point students protest for theater integration, 1960-1964

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Timing
Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
The campaign stopped in Spring 1961 and started again in November 1962. There is no exact end date.
February
1960
to
Late
1964
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
High Point, North Carolina and Thomasville, North Carolina
Goals: 
Newspapers reporting the event have stated that the goal is "complete integration of all facilities."
 

On 18 February 1960, the High Point Biracial Committee was formed to ease racial tensions in High Point. As the group gained more legitimacy, more facilities desegregated thanks in part to negotiations between the committee and city officials. By 1963, nearly all government and public institutions were integrated. The remaining stronghold of segregation was privately-owned buildings such the town theaters.

The high school students who organized the High Point lunch counter sit-ins began picketing the local theater, The Paramount, once the lunch counters shut down. [See in this database: HIGH POINT HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS SIT-IN FOR U.S. CIVIL RIGHTS, 1960.] Their strategy was to attempt to purchase tickets in the white line and sit in the area reserved for whites. Once refused, the group would simply get back in line.

This campaign ended around Spring 1961, partly due to older members of the group leaving for college. On 31 November 1962, the campaign restarted, this time with only Brenda Jean Fountain as the main organizer followed by members of the local Youth Council for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

After a few months of picketing, the group decided to accelerate the demonstrations. In April 1963, they formed a human chain in front of the ticket booth and the theater door.

In less than a week, after shoving and verbal attacks from white onlookers, the mayor ordered the arrest of the group.

Once released, Fountain, along with Edna Tomlin and chairman of CORE D. Z. Mitchell, issued a lawsuit against the owner of the Paramount, Key Theaters Inc., for discrimination against blacks on city property.

In July, members the Youth Council for the NAACP collaborated with the High Point NAACP chapter for a series of demonstrations in High Point and Thomasville, a nearby town. From 13 July to about 20 July, a growing number of High Point and Thomasville protesters demonstrated in at Thomasville’s theater, Davidson Theater, each day with picketing and marches. The groups during the first two days numbered only about eight to twenty protesters and brought little attention.

On the night of the third day Rev. W. E. Banks, chairman of Thomasville’s NAACP led a large group of protesters to the theater to repeat the strategy in High Point of making a human chain and singing songs of freedom.

After a while, a large crowd of whites gathered. Some white teenagers marched and sang against the protesters. In the commotion, the police arrested 28 protesters and a number of disorderly whites. Juveniles were released the next day, and non-minors faced 60-day suspended sentences for violating a fire ordinance.

The demonstrations came to climax on 18 July 1963, when a gunshot was fired into a church where protesters were meeting to discuss the segregation issue with the local Biracial committee. No one was hurt, but the movement suspended demonstrations for the weekend.

National Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) defense attorney Floyd McKissick worked for months to get the charges against the Thomasville demonstrators dismissed or reduced to fines; he eventually succeeded.

Meanwhile, the injunction against Key Theaters Inc. (the owner of the Paramount) in High Point slowly progressed. On 29 November 1963, a pre-trial occurred, presenting the case that the owner leasing the Paramount could not discriminate, as he is leasing a publicly-owned building. The owner’s attorney, James Lovelace, maintained that the refusal to integrate is a purely economic decision, despite the fact that due to extensive picketing and boycotts, few blacks attended the theater and the black section of the theater had been shut down for months. The case was thrown out in 1964 after the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The theater was then legally forced to abide by federal law and desegregate.

Research Notes
Influences: 

Greensboro Four Sit-ins

Sources: 
Frank Warren, "Negroes Ask Injunction Against Theater," The High Point Enterprise, June 19, 1963.

Forrest Cates, "Biracial Group Angry over Picketing Threat," The High Point Enterprise, July 11, 1963.

"Week of Race Crisis in Thomasville," The High Point Enterprise, July 21,1963.

"Theater Refuses Integration Plea," The High Point Enterprise, August 5, 1963.

Correspondence with Brenda Saunders Hampden, February 6-7, 2014.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Kerry Robinson, 09/02/2014