Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Look Back: Charlotte and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- Part II

Our series "A Look Back: Charlotte and the Civil Rights Act of 1964" continues.

Three desegregation actions in our area during the early 1960s did make national headlines. Sit-ins blossomed in Charlotte and nearby cities during 1960 - 61.  In spring 1963, A & T University student Jesse Jackson organized relentless marches against segregated movie theaters and other public accommodations in the Greensboro area.  In May 1963 came the voluntary desegregation of Charlotte’s upscale restaurants. Together those important initiatives set the stage for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Black college students sat down at the segregated lunch counter of the Woolworths store in downtown Greensboro on February 1, 1960.  One of the original four, Franklin McCain, went on live most of his life in Charlotte, passing away in 2013. The sit-in strategy quickly spread other Carolina towns with black colleges. Johnson C. Smith University students led in part by Charles Jones held one of the biggest sit-ins, with as many as 200 participants.  In nearby Rock Hill, sit-in activists from Friendship College pioneered the “jail, no bail” technique, making headlines as they braved arrest and did hard labor at the county prison.

The sit-ins opened most lunch counters but segregation remained in other public places.  In 1963, charismatic student Jesse Jackson at NC A & T University organized mass protests in Greensboro and nearby cities.  As hundreds of students picketed movie theaters week after week, it became clear to America that this issue would not go away.

Events in Charlotte gave hope that change could come peacefully.  In response to a march by black dentist Dr. Reginald Hawkins and Johnson C. Smith University students, Mayor Stan Brookshire worked with the Chamber of Commerce to arrange for black and white businessmen to go two-by-two to eat together at the city’s elite restaurants.  By the end of May 1963, desegregation was a reality. The New York Times and other national press applauded.

The stage was set for the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  On June 20, 1963 the Act was introduced in the US House.  Despite long and concerted resistance by many white Southern legislators, it made its way thru the House then the Senate over the next year.  President Lyndon Johnson signed it into law on July 2, 1964!

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Would sit-ins be as effective today? Would you participate in a sit-in? 

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