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Greensboro Sit-ins - Launch of a Civil Rights Movement

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Needed: A "Just And Honorable" Answer

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Monday, February 8, 1960.

Mayor George Roach appealed to the Greensboro spirit in his statement about the lunch counter controversy Saturday when he called upon "the leadership of the Negro students and the business concerns involved to place the public interest above personal considerations, even to the extent of foregoing, for a while, individual rights and financial interest, if by doing so a peaceful solution can be evolved..."

Even before Mayor Roach's statement both factions recognized the serious nature of the impasse. Negro leadership at A. and T., working closely with officials of four involved colleges, convinced students at a mass meeting Saturday night to cancel their sit-down protest during a two-week cooling-off period. Almost simultaneously, but independently, managers of both Woolworth and Kress decided to close their lunch counter departments temporarily, beginning today.

Now both factions must work with the city's alerted leadership to find in Mayor Roach's words, "a just and honorable" answer to the problem. That will not be easy even with the utmost restraint.

In the first place, the lunch counter protest, however viewed in the community and state, has all the makings of a religiously-motivated cause similar to the Montgomery bus strike of several years ago. Its leadership utilized the same methods employed by Gandhi's non-violent resistance in India and the Rev. Martin Luther King's Montgomery, Ala., bus strike of several years ago. The failure of some in the community to sense the deep meaning of this protest delayed effective action by community mediators almost to the very edge of serious racial violence.

On the other had, five-and-ten officials, having failed to recognize the serious nature of the protest in stores catering to mixed clientele and following policy set elsewhere, did not feel they could give in to mass protest without antagonizing others and losing face.

Greensboro has demonstrated good sense in handling most of its racial disputes in recent years. Mayor Roach pointed to the quiet desegregation of the city's bus system, libraries, city parks, airport, coliseum-auditorium and some schools. He also mentioned those areas in which there had been differences of opinion about the peaceful maintenance of desegregated public facilities --meaning golf courses and swimming pools. But the substance of his statement was that Greensboro has the resources to meet this latest impasse, if it uses them properly.

We agree. But let us emphasize that no real solution can be found if it results in open and flaunted triumph for one group or another. The matter must be settled quickly on an individual basis with both sides recognizing that further group demonstrations will hurt more than help.

A way can be found during this cooling off period to deal with the moral, economic and legal facts of the problem. There ought to be dining facilities available in the downtown area for all who care to patronize them. In such circumstances the moral considerations often speak more loudly than the legal. The spirit of the law is more important than the letter.

The next two weeks must not be idled away, Greensboro's lunch counter controversy has broad implications outside the community -- in the state, in the nation and the world.

Let Greensboro's leadership demonstrate its competency to find a solution which will combine the fairness of moral justice with the salutary qualities of good business and practicality.

It can be done.

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