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A Milestone of Freedom

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  • A Milestone of Freedom

    Send your mind back fifty years, to February 1, 1960.

    The landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka Kansas had been decided in 1954, but while it had declared segregated schools unconstitutional, six years later less than one per cent of black students in the South attended an integrated public school.

    The Montgomery Bus Boycott — organized by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. following the arrest of Rosa Parks for refusing to surrender her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama municipal bus to a white person had ended in 1956 following another U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring segregated public transportation unconstitutional. But four years later the Civil Rights movement seemed stalled. Many wondered if any further substantive progress could be expected for a generation.

    Then something remarkable happened. On February 1, 1960, four African-American college students — Ezell Blair Jr., Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond — walked into an F.W. Woolworth in Greensboro, North Carolina, and sat down at the whites-only lunch counter. Television recorded the arrest of four polite, well-dressed young men whose crime was trying to order a burger and milk shake in a public restaurant. Television recorded, and America watched. Then America acted.

    Over the next eight weeks, sit-ins exploded into a national movement, taking place in over seventy cities. By the end of June, over 50,000 people had taken part in a sit-in. It re-energized the civil rights movement, gave it a new tactic and a new urgency. It spawned the Student Non-Violent ...


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