History of Sit-ins and Their Impact on Civil Rights Movements

History of Sit-Ins and Impact on Civil Rights Movements

Sit-ins protests are not a new type of technique used for civil rights. As it is evident that they help energizing the civil rights movements since 1960s. The nature of sit-insthis technique is although passive, but they helped in bring real change over the period of time. In 1960s the impact of the sit-ins was not considered value able in terms of civil right movements.

In Chicago, during early 1940s, a successful sit-in was used by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) with motive of desegregation of Public Facilities. Later on in 1944, a successful sit in was used by students of Howard University for desegregation of a cafeteria in Washington. But at that time such incidents were not known by world due to several reasons.

The four students in North Carolina sparked a wave of additional sit-ins throughout the South and set the stage for the creation of a new organization that quickly gained momentum within the civil rights movement: the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Again in 1960, during the month of February a situation arises in North Carolina, when four students sat on lunch counter which was reserved for “Whites Only” whose names were David Richmond, Franklin McClain Jr., Joseph McNeil and Ezell Blair. This issue acts as fuel in burgeoning movement for Civil Rights during 1960.

Lunch Place sit In North Carolina 1960
Lunch Place sit In North Carolina 1960

The day after the first sit-in at the Greensboro Woolworth’s, more students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College, the historically black college that the original four attended, descended on the store. Even though there were no confrontations, the local media covered the second sit-in. When the national media picked up the story, it struck a chord with other students who began to duplicate the sit-ins in other locations.


Nashville, Tennessee was a pivotal city in the sit-in movement. With the national spotlight created by the Greensboro sit-in, students from four predominantly black schools took action in Nashville in February 1960.

The first wave of sit-ins was peaceful, but that changed on February 27, 1960, when a group of white teenagers attacked sit-in participants. Nashville police didn’t stop the attack. Instead, they arrested the sit-in participants for disorderly conduct. A new group quickly replaced the arrested students. Nashville police arrested approximately 81 students during this period.

When the black community rallied behind the students with money to bail them out, the students refused the bail money and opted to serve jail terms. Fisk student Diane Nash, a former beauty pageant contestant who became one of the civil rights movement’s young leaders, explained, “We feel that if we pay these fines we would be contributing to and supporting the injustice and immoral practices that have been performed in the arrest and conviction of the defendants.”

By April, Nashville, long considered a moderate city in regards to race relations, had lost considerable tourist dollars. When segregationists bombed the home of Z. Alexander Looby, the attorney who represented the participating students, 2,500 people, whites among them, marched to city hall and addressed Nashville Mayor Ben West. A turning point in the Nashville movement came when Nash asked West if he believed it was wrong to discriminate against a person solely on the basis of race and West answered “yes.” Weeks later, lunch counters in Nashville were desegregated.


The sit-in tactic helped integrate other facilities. By August 1961, an estimated 70,000 people had participated in sit-ins across the country (more than 3,000 of these were arrested). One of the most important results of these actions was that students from across the country became active participants in the civil right movement.

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