By Curt Devine
December 8, 2009
On Feb. 1, 1960, four students made history by sitting at the
whites-only lunch counter of the Woolworth store in Greensboro, N.C.
When the manager asked them to leave, they refused.
"This was a shocking moment," said Bill Link, a University of Florida
history professor. "People weren't sure if blacks and whites could
ever eat together, but these students proved otherwise."
Despite opposition from police and store workers, the four students
of all-black A&T College returned the next day with 15 more students.
The next day, 300 students came and the sit-in movement began to
spread to other states.
A panel discussing the 50th anniversary of the sit-ins that energized
the civil rights movement in the South will be held at 7 tonight in
the Ocora Room at Pugh Hall.
Link, who will be one of the panelists, said these issues still have
relevance due to the racial identities and stereotypes that affect
decisions made in today's society.
Discussing the history of civil rights can reveal a lot about the
present, he said.
Link believes the sit-ins played an essential role in the civil
rights movement because the four students in Greensboro attacked a
symbol of white supremacy and racial injustice with a non-violent method.
The Greensboro sit-ins also led to the creation of the Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, pronounced "snick," which
organized national sit-ins and provided publicity for the movement.
"This was a time when courage and action moved rapidly to make
change," Link said. "But this was not the end of the story. We are
still living it."
Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, a UF assistant professor of religion,
described the sit-ins as one of the most iconic times in the South.
As a student at Spelman College and a member of SNCC in the early
1960s, Simmons participated in many Atlanta sit-ins. She recalls
people pouring coffee and spitting on students who sat in white-only
sections of the Kresge five-and-dime stores.
"We were beaten and dragged to jail, but we didn't fight back," she said.
The knowledge that she was a part of a bigger movement gave Simmons
strength to keep fighting for civil rights. She said she remembers
singing and holding hands with SNCC members as they were taken to jail.
Simmons worked with the SNCC through the late 1960s and remembers the
excitement when the Civil Rights acts of 1964 and 1968 were passed.
"People who are organized and dedicated can bring about real change,"
she said. "The face of the South was changed forever."
Tom Calhoon, a UF history freshman, said he hopes the panel sparks
conversation about social justice and human rights because he
believes racism is the cause of most global conflict.
"I think it's necessary to understand our history so that we can
continue making changes today," he said.