Civil Rights Sit-In at the Richmond Room, February 22, 1960 (The "Richmond 34")
On February 22, 1960, 34 African American students from Virginia Union University were arrested after protesting racial discrimination at Thalhimers Department Store in Richmond. Thalhimers operated a chain of high-end department stores and the Richmond location operated a restaurant that refused to serve African Americans, even after many of the other lunch counters in department stores ended their policy of segregation. The 34 students were then known, and still are, as the "Richmond 34."
Backstory and Context
From the perspective of many white residents, Richmond's department store lunch-counter became a nostalgic symbol of the Old South-especially as it shared the name of the capitol of the Confederacy. From the perspective of African Americans and progressive whites, these Jim Crow practices were part of a past that needed to end. From the perspective of area business owners, negative press coverage reduced the likelihood of visitors coming to the city. After multiple demonstrations and arrests, some white business leaders hoped that the lunch counter would end its stand against integration. With the added pressure of a pending federal court case, the Richmond Room agreed to serve all customers regardless of race.
Despite the eventual success of the protest, the students who participated in the sit-ins were arrested and charged with trespassing. With the help of local black leaders, the students appealed their conviction by arguing that they were exercising their free speech by protesting segregation. Although the Virginia Supreme Court upheld their conviction, the students won their appeal to the United States Supreme Court in Raymond B. Randolph, Jr. v. Commonwealth of Virginia. Three years after their arrest, the Supreme Court decision reversed their convictions and cleared the participants record of criminal charges.
Virginia Union University commemorated the 50th anniversary of the sit-in in 2010 by honoring the participants and placing a marker at the site where the department store was located.
More on the Thalimers Sit-in and the "Richmond 34" by Timothy Hagy (duplicate Clio entry dated 12/1/14):
"Before the 34 men’s arrest at Thalimers, VUU students had been engaging in sit-in protests all over town in Richmond without major incidents. They had not reached Thalimers Department Store – it was an upper-crust establishment that appeared immune. The first attempted sit-in at Thalimers was on February 20, two days before the major event. That day William B. Thalimer Jr., the owner and acting manager, simply closed the lunch counter. Thalimer reacted differently when the students became bolder and marched to the 4th floor “Richmond Room,” an upscale diner reserved for the affluent. Police arrived at Thalimers with German Shepherds and arrested the peaceful "Richmond 34."
President of VUU, Dr. Samuel Proctor, expressed dismay and shock at the news of the arrests at the sit-in. Later it was revealed that Proctor was intimately involved with the planning of the sit-in at Thalhimers with his students. At the time he felt that it would be unwise for him to endanger funding for his predominately African-American school by endorsing such a controversial protest. The students were all bailed out of jail by money raised locally by civil rights activists, money from the NAACP, and by VUU Vice President Allix B. James using his home as collateral.
Three days after the incident the Governor of Virginia, J. Lindsay Almond Jr., passed emergency legislation that created harsher punishment for trespassing and added a provision for conspiracy charges to be attached. Even Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, commented on the protests in Richmond calling them “the work of Communist Party functionaries”.
Thalimer and another rival department store owner had had enough by the end of a year of the boycott. Thalimer remarked that it was the only time his business had shown negative growth since his great-great-grandfather had established the business. Thalimer and his rival/partner decided in secret to quietly desegregate their main-floor lunch counters, perhaps as Thalimer claimed: to not offend his customer base. In the end Mr. Thalimer called the civil rights leaders of the Richmond community and invited them to a dinner in the 4th-floor of Thalimers in the “Richmond Room” thus ending the boycott and effectively desegregating much of the Richmond business district."