The Woolworth Building Sit-In (1960)
University students from nearby black colleges chose the Woolworth building for the site of one of many sit-in protests in Nashville, Tennessee on February 13, 1960. The students protested the segregation of the dining counter in the Woolworth building. They were faced with backlash and violence but continued to protest until May 10, 1960, when six of the nearby segregated establishments agreed to serve all people regardless of race.
Backstory and Context
The students involved in the protests were from nearby black colleges including Fisk University, Tennessee Agricultural & Industrial State University, Meharry Medical College, and American Baptist Theological Seminary.
White citizens converged on the protesters on February 27, 1960, and attacked the Nashville protesters. On this day, more than two hundred student protesters gathered. The police arrested 81 of the student protesters and charged them with disorderly conduct. U.S. Congressman John Lewis was arrested at the lunch counter on the first floor of the Nashville Woolworth. This was Lewis’ first arrest of many.
On April 11, 1960, more student protesters gathered at the Woolworth to protest the segregated lunch counter. As soon as the student protesters arrived, the Woolworth staff closed the lunch counter. The Woolworth employees stood at the stairs leading to the lunch counter and only allowed white individuals to go up the lunch counter.
The home of Z. Alexander Looby, a black Civil Rights Attorney, was bombed on April 19, 1960. On that same day, four thousand students, including U.S. Congressman John Lewis marched together to the Nashville courthouse to meet Mayor Ben West head-on. One protester asked if the segregation of lunch counters was morally right, and the mayor answered no. Consequently, April 19, 1960, was the day that began the desegregation of downtown Nashville lunch counters.
The structure that would become the Woolworth building was built in the 1890s, and the Woolworth building opened in that structure in 1913. The lunch counter in the Woolworth building opened in 1925. The Woolworth building is a registered historic site and part of the Historic District in Nashville, Tennessee. It is one of the original five and dime stores in Nashville.
Sit-ins: Nashville, Tenn. Civil Rights Digital Library. Accessed October 11, 2018. http://crdl.usg.edu/events/sit_ins_nashville_tn/?Welcome&Welcome.
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TN Ledger, Nashville Public Library, Special Collections, April 28, 2017, http://www.tnledger.com/editorial/Article.aspx?id=96698.
Woolworth on Fifth. Nashville Downtown Partnership. Accessed October 10, 2018. https://www.nashvilledowntown.com/go/woolworth-on-5th.
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Morales, Tom, Tuck-Hinton, Tuck-Hinton, http://www.tuckhinton.com/news/180222-woolworthon5th.