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Sit-in at the White Pantry, 1963
Although these protests led to the end of Jim Crow at many Huntington restaurants prior to the spring of 1963, the owner of the White Pantry turned violent and attacked one of the black students with a cattle prod. The second video clip below shows a young woman on the ground gasping for air after the owner of the White Pantry Inn lit sulfur cakes to force black students to leave his restaurant.
African Americans used nonviolent protest tactics against segregation of railcars and other forms of public transportation in the late 19th and early 20th century. African Americans held a sit-in to protest racial discrimination at libraries as well, the most famous early protest of this type happening in Alexandria, VA in 1939. During the 1940s, students and community members in northern and western cities held small sit-ins, including a sit-in against the segregated lunch counter at Wichita's Dockhum drug store.
Sit-ins at segregated lunch counters attracted national attention in the spring of 1960 following a sit-in by four college students in Greensboro, NC. On February 1st, four students occupied seats at the lunch counter at a local Woolworth. Additional students joined the protest which grew until over three hundred protesters filled the store on February 5th. News of this protest inspired similar sit-ins throughout North Carolina the following week. By the end of the month, there were sit-ins in dozens of southern cities and hundreds of restaurants and lunch counters ended their policy of racial segregation.
The situation in Huntington mirrored the national trend towards racial integration, but the owner of this particular restaurant refused to serve African Americans even the other restaurants opened their doors to all customers. Few African Americans wished to eat at the White Pantry, which had a reputation of sub-standard food and service, but by 1963, a growing number of Huntingtonians decided that they would challenge the owner's racial bigotry.
During the sit-ins at the White Pantry, the owner physically attacked students and even burned sulfur cakes to release toxic fumes that forced the protesters to leave the premises. Gustavus Cleckly and Cicero Fain were arrested on trespassing charges by the Huntington Police Department. The police later served the two civil rights organizers with "John Doe" warrants. (A "John Doe" warrant is used for the arrest of a person whose name is unknown, and is sometimes used to arrest a person known by sight and not by name).
For more information about the sit-ins and share-ins, as well as the organization of the Civic Interest Progressives, please click on the videos and article by Isaac McKown. McKown's research was conducted as part of Marshall University's Carter G. Woodson Project. Located within Marshall's history department website, the Woodson Project hosts a number of articles about African American history in West Virginia. These articles are based upon research in local archives, newspapers, and interviews with longtime Huntington residents.
SourcesIsaac McKown, "Sit-In Demonstrations Challenge Huntington’s Racial Status Quo," Carter G. Woodson Project, Marshall University. http://www.marshall.edu/carterwoodson/isaac_mckown.asp "2 Arrested on Trespass Charges." The Herald Advertiser, August 25, 1963. Bodroghkozy, Aniko. Equal Time: Television and the Civil Rights Movement. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2012. Lewis, Andrew B. The Shadows of Youth: The Remarkable Journey of the Civil Rights Generation. New York: Macmillan Press, 2009.
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