My name is Mark Fuller. I was born and raised in Greensboro, North Carolina. During the early part of 1960 I was working in the shoe store two doors away from the Woolworth. At that time we were paid on the first of the month. On payday, I treated myself to lunch at the Woolworth as a reward instead of eating my usual lunch from home.
On February 1, 1960, I had just sat down at the luncheon area counter when four young black men came in and sat at the counter. They were sitting at the whites only counter. Now Woolworth had some black employees, but blacks were not able to buy lunch at the counter. In those days, it wasn’t done. The thought was the blacks had their own places to be. The real reason was that people did not see blacks the same as white people. Many folks were angry at blacks for the Civil War, too. Southern folks are big on family, and few families did not have someone who died in the war. Many families lost everything. The way they looked at it, it was the blacks fault.
When those four black men walked in and sat at the counter, the room became silent. You could have heard a pin drop. Everyone looked at the counter who could see it. They asked for coffee and were told they could not be served where they were sitting. The men refused to move. Some of the employees working behind the counter were blacks and you could see that they felt bad not serving these men. The lunch counter had these swivel chairs with see through backs. The counter faced the kitchen, and when you sat down you looked at the wall or the kitchen with the cooks.
After a short time, the police were called. They came in and talked to the store manager. We thought the police would arrest them, but they did not. I had to go back to work, but I heard that the police said they were not going to arrest them for sitting, as long as there was no other trouble. When I chanced a peak in the store later in the day, they were still at the counter. The Woolworth closed at 6 pm every day. So did my shoe store. As I was leaving, I saw the men walk out with the other customers when the store closed. They were talking to the black people who could n to serve them, telling them they understood why they did not serve them. I thought, well, that’s the end of that.
Well, the next day they came back and there were not just four of them. There were 20 or so young men and they took up the complete restaurant area. Very few people were served that day in the restaurant and they stayed all day again. The police decided there were too many for them to arrest and they were not doing enough to bother about. They thought they would get tired. I saw some reporters there also. They were waiting with the police and the store manager to see what would happen. But, just like before, they all went home peaceably when the store closed.
Well, the newspaper articles got more and more people interested in the Woolworth. This would be good for shopping usually, but this time people came but didn’t buy. The third day 60 people came and on the fourth day over 300. Store business came almost to a halt.
People began to shop elsewhere to avoid the circus at the Woolworth. However, these blacks were smart and began to spread their protests to the stores and luncheon places. There were too many people involved for the police to stop without the use of force and too many reporters for them to want to use force. Finally, on May 25, 1960, Woolworth began serving blacks at the luncheon counter, starting the black employees of that store. Soon, the other restaurants went along. It has that, or go out of business. People were still mad about the protest. But their persistence paid off and it happened without anyone being arrested or hurt. These students spoke to one another, and took their sit-ins to other cities. They were not all non-violent, but the separate luncheon counters ended in one place after another.
The International Civil Rights Center and Museum and website, Greensboro, NC, located at the former Greensboro Woolworth store.