January 16, 2012

Cooking Up Change

They looked so young, the four college students who sat down and ordered coffee at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., on Feb. 1, 1960.

Legal challenges and demonstrations were cracking the foundations of segregation, but a black person still couldn’t sit down and eat a hamburger or a piece of pie in a store that was all too willing to take his money for a tube of toothpaste.

Those four freshmen at North Carolina A&T College — Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr. and David Richmond — sat until the store closed, but they still didn’t get their coffee.

But that day helped spark other sit-in protests — led by young people like themselves — that spread throughout the South in 1960, energizing the civil rights movement. And the Greensboro Woolworth desegregated its lunch counter later that year.

It wasn’t the first time that food, or the lack thereof, figured large in the movement.


  1. Sheila Ryan on January 16th, 2012 at 3:12 pm
  2. Sheila Ryan on January 16th, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    For more on Georgia Gilmore and the Club from Nowhere, check out this lovely reminiscence produced by the Kitchen Sisters.

  3. Sheila Ryan on January 16th, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    Strange as it seems (especially to me, as I do not recall the meeting), it seems I met Lester Maddox when I was a little girl. My parents, Connecticut Yankees transplanted to Texas, and I were in Atlanta to visit my dad’s best friend from high school, also an ex-pat. Married to a Greek woman who was active in local Democratic politics. For some reason I still cannot fathom, the grown-ups decided to go check out Lester Maddox at his restaurant.

    Maddox, according to my mother, was meeting and greeting folks on the night we went, and according to her, he singled me out, saying, “What a beautiful blond child.” (Yes, I was a blond back in the wayback days.)

    “He gave you a toy,” she told me.

    “Get out! Lester Maddox gave me a toy? What?”

    “Oh, I don’t know.” (Uttered in a tone of dismissive disgust.) “Probably some mammy doll.”

    I have no idea how much truth rests in this story.