Virginia Union University students campaign for desegregation in Richmond, USA, 1960

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Time Period:  
February 20,
Location and Goals
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Richmond, Virginia
To desegregate the department store lunch counters in Richmond

The students of Virginia Union University, a black university, wanted to do something to contribute to the growing sit-in movement that had begun on February 1, 1960, in Greensboro, North Carolina (see “Greensboro, NC, students sit-in for U.S. Civil Rights, 1960”). Led by students Frank Pinkston and Charles Sherrod, who had been counseled on nonviolent protest methods by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., more than 200 Virginia Union students and faculty marched from their campus to Richmond’s downtown shopping district on February 20, 1960.

The group proceeded to sit at the lunch counters of the department stores, where they were denied service but refused to leave their seats until the stores closed. They conducted a second sit-in on February 22nd, expanding to include an up-scale restaurant called Thalhimers Richmond Room.

The students were refused access to the fourth-floor tearoom, at which point some minor pushing and shoving occurred. Thirty-four of the students who refused to leave the establishment were arrested for trespassing, and were verbally abused and scalded with hot coffee by some of the white customers. The 34 arrested students—11 women and 23 men ranging in age from 18 to 23—were transported by patrol wagon caravan and charged, then released on a $50 bond.

The students’ arrests led to the formation of the Campaign for Human Dignity in Richmond, through which Virginia Union students, black high school students, and other members of the anti-segregation community organized a shopping boycott and picketing of segregated establishments.

By January of 1961, these establishments desegregated due to the great economic loss they had experienced during the holiday season. However, the city of Richmond did not become fully desegregated until the end of that decade, with the culminating milestone being the election in December 1969 of L. Douglas Wilder, the first African-American to fill a Virginia State Senate seat since Reconstruction.

Even though Richmond wasn't fully desegregated until the end of the decade, this campaign is considered successful as their only stated goal was to desegregate the lunch counters at the department stores, a goal which was met less than a year after the sit-ins occurred.

Research Notes

Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins earlier that month (see "Greensboro, NC, students sit-in for U.S. Civil Rights, 1960")(1)

Virginia Historical Society –

Virginia Union University –

Library of Virginia –

Hylton, Raymond Pierre. “The Barriers They Broke,” Style, Nov. 4th, 2008.

Sit-In/Stand Out, A Project Recognizing the 50th Anniversary of the Thalhimers Lunch Counter Sit-In. –

Department of Historic Resources –

Greensboro Sit-ins, Launch of a Civil Rights Movement. –

Additional Notes: 
The convictions of the 34 arrested students were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 1963.

Pinkston, one of the leaders of the sit-in, was working towards his master’s degree in divinity and was the assistant football coach at VUU.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Hannah-Ruth Miller, 31/01/2010