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Greensboro Sit-ins - Launch of a Civil Rights Movement

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The first route of the Underground Railroad, a network of trails and hiding places that led fleeing slaves to the North, begins in a cave near a creek on what is now the Guilford College campus. A slave from Guilford County, John Dimrey, is the first to follow the Underground Railroad to freedom.


Benjamin Benson, a slave, wins his freedom in Guilford County Superior Court.


Greensboro’s first census includes 369 white residents, 101 slaves and 26 free blacks.


13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States abolishes slavery.


14th Amendment’s equal protection clause requires states to provide equal protection under the law to all people.

Late 1860s

Greensboro’s first suburb, called Warnersville, is developed near Ashe Street. Ezell Blair Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), a future sit-in participant, will grow up in this community.


15th Amendment guarantees that the right to vote could not be denied based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”


Bennett College for black women opens.

March 1, 1875

President Ulysses S. Grant signs the Civil Rights Act. The U.S. Supreme Court declares it unconstitutional in 1883.


Agricultural and Mechanical College (now N.C. A&T) opens.


The Niagara Movement is founded and is the forerunner of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

January 1909

First meeting of the NAACP is held in New York.

July 1917

On July 2, violence erupts in East St. Louis, Ill., stemming specifically from the employment of black workers in a factory holding government contracts.

On July 28, the NAACP stages a silent parade down Fifth Avenue in New York City, protesting the riot and other acts of violence toward black Americans.


NAACP membership reaches about 90,000 with more than 300 local branches.


19th Amendment gives women the right to vote.


Congress of Racial Equality, an interracial American organization, is established to improve race relations and end discriminatory policies through direct-action projects. One of its first activities is a sit-in at a coffee shop in Chicago for the purpose of protesting segregation in public settings.


President Harry Truman decides to end segregation in the armed forces and the civil service through administrative action (executive order) rather than through legislation.

By October 1953, the Army announces that 95 percent of African American soldiers are serving in integrated units.


Bennett College sociology professor Edward Edmonds leads delegations of parents to the school board to protest inferior educational facilities. He also demands the whites-only swimming pool at Lindley Park be opened to blacks.

Dr. George Simkins, a Greensboro dentist, begins a successful drive to desegregate Greensboro’s city-owned golf courses.


William Hampton becomes the first African American elected to the Greensboro City Council.

May 1954

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan., is decided. The Supreme Court declares segregated schools are inherently unequal and therefore unconstitutional.


The Supreme Court rules that blacks need not be immediately admitted to public schools on a racially nondiscriminatory basis but that school boards should eliminate segregation “with all deliberate speed.” In the South, there is massive resistance to the desegregation of schools. North Carolina Governor Luther Hodges gives a “voluntary segregation” speech in August and later appeals to the all-black North Carolina Teacher’s Association to endorse separate schools. The Pupil Assignment Act passed and was used as a tool to block desegregation efforts. In 1956, courts upheld the Act, defining student assignments as an individual matter that precluded any class action suit.

Dec. 1, 1955

Rosa Parks refuses to change seats on a Montgomery, Ala., bus, sparking a yearlong bus boycott spearheaded by Martin Luther King Jr.

Dec. 7, 1955

Six African Americans, Dr. George S. Simkins, Jr., Leon Wolfe, Joseph Sturdivant, Samuel Murray, Philip Cook and Elijah H. Herring were arrested at Gillespie Park Golf course and charged with trespassing. They would later become known as the “Greensboro Six”.

Nov. 13, 1956

The U.S. Supreme Court outlaws bus segregation.

Sept. 3, 1957

Greensboro becomes the first city in the Southeast to desegregate its all-white public schools when five black children enroll at Gillespie Park School. The children endure heckling, screaming from spectators. The next day, Dudley student, Josephine Boyd integrates Greensboro Senior High when she transfers.

Sept. 9, 1957

Eisenhower sends U.S. Army troops to Little Rock, Ark., to enforce desegregation of schools.


Conservative school boards across North Carolina used legal and administrative actions to block desegregation. Only 53 out of 225 black requests for transfer were granted in the entire state.

Feb. 1, 1960

Ezell Blair Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), David Richmond, Joseph McNeil and Franklin McCain launch the Greensboro sit-ins. In just two months, the sit-in movement spreads to 54 cities in nine states.

After passing by Ralph Johns’ store on Market Street, the four A&T students enter the Elm Street Woolworth at 4 p.m., purchasing school supplies and other items. They then approach the lunch counter and order coffee at 4:30 p.m. They are refused service. The four remain in their seats until closing at 5:30 p.m.

Feb. 6, 1960

More than 500 students jam the Woolworth and Kress stores and the sidewalks in downtown Greensboro.

Feb. 11, 1960

Students participate in sit-ins across the state. Twenty-six William Penn High School students sit at the Woolworth lunch counter on South Main Street in High Point.

June 1963

Hundreds of demonstrators sit-down in the street at Jefferson Square (Elm and Market St.) to protest against segregated public accommodations. A&T student body president, Jesse Jackson is arrested for 'inciting a riot'.

July 11, 1963

Dr. Martin Luther King visits Greensboro to show his support for civil rights protests begun by A&T students.

July 25, 1960

F.W. Woolworth agrees to integrate its Greensboro store; four black Woolworth employees — Geneva Tisdale, Susie Morrison, Anetha Jones and Charles Best — are the first to be served.

Aug. 28, 1963

Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his historic “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Fall 1963

Charlotte completed integration of all hospitals, hotels and restaurants. Ninety-five percent of Durham’s restaurants and 100% of its motels were integrated. More than 60% of Greensboro’s restaurants and motels were still segregated. The Greensboro Chamber of Commerce was 100% white.


24th Amendment prohibits Congress and the states from conditioning the right to vote in federal elections on payment of a poll tax or other types of tax.

Martin Luther King Jr., at age 35, receives the Nobel Peace Prize. He gives the prize money to the furtherance of the civil rights movement.

Feb. 21, 1965

Malcolm X is assassinated while giving a speech in New York City.

Aug. 6, 1965

The Voting Rights Bill becomes law, nullifying local laws and practices that prevent minorities from voting.


The United States Commission of Education called for a minimum of two full-time teachers assigned across racial ones to each school. Twenty-four of 45 Greensboro schools were not in compliance to that rule.

May 1-Oct. 1, 1967

In the worst summer for racial disturbances in U.S. history, more than 40 riots and 100 other disturbances occur.

June 13, 1967

President Johnson appoints Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court. He is the first African American on the court.


Henry Frye becomes the first black person in the 20th century to serve in the N.C. House of Representatives.

Elreta Alexander-Ralston becomes the country’s first African American woman to be elected a District Court judge.

February 1968

The Office of Civil Rights informed Greensboro officials that their progress toward desegregation was “below the degree normally expected” and stated that the school board should produce a “terminal plan” for dismantling the dual school structure.

April 4, 1968

Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tenn., where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city.

April 11, 1968

President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (Fair Housing Act). The 1968 act expands on previous acts and prohibits discrimination concerning the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, religion or national origin.

May 6, 1969

Howard Lee is elected mayor of Chapel Hill. He is the first black mayor in a predominantly white city, serving until 1975. (In 2003, Lee becomes the first black chairman of the State Board of Education.)

Oct. 29, 1969

The Supreme Court (Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education) says segregation must end at once.


Greensboro and Guilford County efforts to desegregate involved busing students to schools outside of their communities using a system wide redistricting plan.

Feb. 1, 1980

Twentieth reunion of the Greensboro Four at Woolworth. They are served by company Vice President Aubrey C. Lewis.

State historical marker is unveiled at North Elm Street and West Friendly Avenue.


Former state Sen. Henry E. Frye is sworn in as associate justice of the N.C. Supreme Court, becoming the first black justice in the court’s 164-year history.

Aug. 10, 1989

Army Gen. Colin L. Powell becomes the first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest military post in the nation.


Melvin “Skip” Alston and Rep. Earl Jones found Sit-in Movement Inc. to renovate and reopen the downtown Woolworth department store as a civil rights museum.


An 8-foot section of the Woolworth counter and four stools go on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.


The Greensboro and Guilford County practice of busing students to faraway schools ended, with a redrawing of school zones.

November 2007

Yvonne Johnson is the first African American elected mayor of Greensboro.

November 2008

Barack Obama is elected president of the United States.

Feb. 1, 2010

The opening of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum marks the 50th anniversary of the Greensboro Sit-Ins.


Minorities make up 90 percent or more of enrollment at about one-fourth of the Guilford system’s schools.


News & Record archive, Britannica Encyclopedia, Truman Library, UNCG Civil Rights Greensboro timeline, Yale School of Education, NAACP, Civilities and Civil Rights by William H. Chafe

If you would like to make a monetary contribution to the The International Civil Rights Center & Museum, promoting the cause of civil rights championed by the A&T Four and countless others, visit their website.
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