The Greenville Eight (site of the 1960 library sit-in)
The site that is now a parking lot next to the Municipal Court building in Greenville was once occupied by the Greenville Public Library. Like virtually public facilities in the South, the library was segregated, with the main branch on Main Street serving white patrons only. The "colored" branch was housed on East McBee Avenue and held a fraction of the books that the main branch had. In 1960, eight African American students (including Jesse Jackson) held a sit-in at the main branch and were arrested for disorderly conduct. Their actions led to the desegregation of Greenville's libraries later that year.
Backstory and Context
In March of 1960, twenty African American high school students, who were accompanied by Rev. S. E. Kay of the New Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, entered the main branch of the library. Some browsed the stacks while others sat reading quietly. Eventually the librarian told them that they would have to go to the McAbee Street branch, which served African Americans, and closed the library early.
Two weeks later, seven African American teenagers--five young women and two young men--attempted to use the library and when told that they had to leave, they refused. Since the first attempt at integrating the library, city officials and members of the library's board of trustees met and agreed on how they would handle any subsequent challenges to segregation. When the students refused to leave, the librarian called police and the students were arrested, charged with disorderly conduct, and released on bail after a short while.
Their case was supposed to go before the Municipal Court two weeks later, but was postponed. The case was postponed repeatedly in the coming months, and still had not been held by July of that year, when seven other African American students entered the library and were told to leave. They complied, but a few hours later, eight African American students entered the library and sat reading, fully aware that they would likely be arrested. Police were called and all eight college students--referred to as the Greenville Eight--were taken to jail. The Greenville Eight included Joan Mattison Daniel, Dorris Wright, Hattie Smith Wright, Elaine Means, Willie Joe Wright, Benjamin Downs, Margaree Seawright Crosby, and Jesse Jackson, who was misidentified in local newspapers as "Jeff Jackson." Months earlier, Jackson, working on a college assignment, needed a book from the McBee Street branch but it was unavailable. When he attempted to use the main branch, he was told that he was not allowed to use that library.
Later that month, lawyers for the NAACP filed a federal lawsuit, asking for a permanent injunction against racial segregation at the library. In September of 1960, before the hearing took place, both the Main Street and McBee Street branches of the city's library were closed on orders of the city government. When the trial was held, lawyers for Greenville argued that the injunction was moot because the libraries--at that time--effectively did not exist. The federal judge noted that if the libraries reopened, they could again be sued. Technically, it was a victory for the city, but public opinion seemed to overwhelmingly favor reopening the libraries. When they were reopened on September 19, the mayor stated that, "The city libraries will be operated for the benefit of any citizen having a legitimate need for the libraries and their facilities. They will not be used for demonstrations, purposeless assembly, or propaganda purposes." The mayor's statement essentially confirmed the integration of the city's libraries.
Greenville's libraries were the first in the state to be integrated as a result of public demonstrations. The libraries in Spartanburg and Columbia had already integrated without incident.
Eberhart, George. The Greenville Eight. American Libraries. June 01, 2017. Accessed December 29, 2018. https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2017/06/01/greenville-eight-library-sit-in/.
Bainbridge, Judith. Integrating Greenville's Library in 1960. Greenville News. July 14, 2016. Accessed December 29, 2018. https://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/life/2016/07/14/integrating-greenvilles-library/87084922/.