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The site where The Jack Spratt Coffee House is said to be where one of the first sit-ins to protest racial in equality took place. During the winter of 1942 the coffee shop refused top serve people of color. As a result, Civil Rights Activist James Farmer organized a sit-in and founded CORE (Congress of Racial Equality). The site where the coffee house once stood is responsible for inspiring sit-in movements throughout the nation, resulting it what has come to be known as the Civil Rights Movement.


  • Jack Spratt Coffee House serves as the birthplace for the sit-in movements that would become a way of peaceful protesting for those hoping to elminate the racial inequality imposed on black people in America. Photo Courtesy: Chicago History Museum
  • The interior of The Jack Spratt Coffee House, where James Farmer and members of CORE would protest racial inequality. Photo Courtesy: Chicago History Museum

Today, many Americans are somewhat knowledgeable about the Civil Rights Movement. After all, protests and sit-ins in the name of racial equality practically dominated the 1960s. However, what has often gone unnoticed to some is the fact that a lunch counter sit-in that took place in a small coffee shop in Chicago, Illinois is what arguably set the stage for the many sit-ins that occurred between the 1950s and 60s. During the Spring of 1943, management at The Jack Spratt Coffee House had refused to serve James Farmer, a young black man who had entered the restaurant with a friend. Unbeknownst to the restaurant, their refusal of service to people of color would set into motion a series of protests throughout the United States, inspiring black people all over the nation to seek change through persistence and peace.

James Farmer, the son of a minister and the grandson of a slave, was a recent graduate from Howard University who had come to Chicago in anticipation of moving in with some friends. It was a cold winter day in 1943 when Farmer and his friend, Jimmy Robinson, stepped into Jack Spratt for a donut. Management refused to serve Farmer at first but gave in eventually. Farmer, who had studied the teachings of Ghandi at Howard, saw this as an opportunity to influence change through nonviolent resistance. Thus, the Committee for Racial Equality was born. James Farmer and Jimmy Robinson returned to the coffee shop with an integrated group of black and white friends. They all took a seat and refused to move until everyone was served.

Ghandi’s teachings of change and growth through nonviolent, peaceful protesting was the foundation of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality). Protesters and strangers sat in unity within the restaurant as some whites who were not members of CORE took note of what was happening and refused to eat anything they were served. The police were called. However, they refused to forcibly remove anyone from the restaurant given the peaceful nature of the protest. The Jack Spratt staff, at last, gave in and everyone was severed. James Farmer, with the help of CORE, had changed the way The Jack Spratt Coffee House would do business from then on.

Originally located on 47th and Kimbark in the Southside of Chicago, The Jack Spratt Coffee House, unfortunately, no longer stands. Though the coffee shop itself cannot be viewed today by the public, the area in which it once resided is a place that gave birth to something that forever changed the face of America. The resilience of James Farmer and CORE helped to usher in the Civil Rights movement. It is imperative that we do not allow the significance of such an event to be forgotten in the absence of  tangible Jack Spratt Coffee House.  Photos and more information pertaining to the coffee shop can be viewed at the Chicago History Museum.

Gebert, Michael. "Chicago's Forgotten Role in the Lunch Counter Sit-In Movement." Grub Street. January 16, 2012. Accessed October 01, 2018. http://www.grubstreet.com/2012/01/chicagos_early_role_in_the_civ.html.

"Part Twenty: We Can't Serve You Here." Hpherald.com. October 17, 2016. Accessed October 01, 2018. https://hpherald.com/2016/10/12/part-twenty-we-cant-serve-you-here/.

Farmer, James. Lay Bare the Heart: An Autobiography of the Civil Rights Movement. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1998.