On April 1, 1960, a group of 24 Burke High School students staged a sit-in at the S.H. Kress & Co. lunch counter. It was the first event of its kind in Charleston and was the catalyst that spurred the local African American community into action. The Kress Co. operated in the building until 1980 and it presently houses a Williams-Sonoma store and private offices. The Charleston Preservation Society unveiled a marker commemorating this historical event on April 4, 2013.
The Civil Rights Movement Sit-Ins began in
Greensboro, NC on February 1, 1960 when four African American students from the
North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University sat down at the
Woolworth lunch counter and asked to be served.
They were denied, but this action spurred a plethora of similarly segregated
lunch counter sit-ins. The majority was
staged at either Woolworth’s or Kress’ lunch counters.
Because both the College of Charleston and the
Citadel were segregated at the time, students from Burke High School stepped up
to the challenge. After two months of
planning and preparation by the local NAACP in nonviolent resistance, the
students, dressed in their Sunday best, headed to Woolworth’s on April 1,
1960. The date was chosen not only to be
two months after the initial Greensboro sit-in, but because there was no school
However, Woolworth’s was prepared for their attempt
and the students found no room at the lunch counter. With Kress’ as their back up, they were able
to find seats to occupy there. The
students politely asked to be served and were denied. Seats were removed to prevent more from
joining in the sit-in and ammonia was poured on the counter in an attempt to
get them to leave. After 5½ hours of reciting
Psalms 23 and the Lord’s Prayer or humming songs, the students were arrested
and charged with trespassing. Bail was
set at $10 each. The charges were later
This action became the catalyst for a more
invigorating Civil Rights Movement in Charleston. Prior to the sit-in, the African American
community was largely quiet for fear of retaliation. But once the students had stepped forward,
most of the adults were spurred to support the movement.
The S.H. Kress & Co. built the building at 281
King Street in 1930. As with many of
their buildings it is in the Art Deco style.