June 9, 2009
On February 1, 1960, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr., Joseph McNeil and David Richmond—all students at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College—entered a Woolworth’s in Greensboro, browsed the store a bit and sat down at the whites-only lunch counter. They asked to be served and when they were refused, they just continued to sit. The nonviolent demonstration was the first sustained sit-in, and soon after others sprung up across the south. Protests in Greensboro lasted for six months, and the lunch counter was desegregated by July 25, 1960.
The very counter at which the four man men sat is one of the most visited artifacts in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and to engage visitors, the museum now holds simulations of a sit-in training, based on an actual Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee training manual from the 1960s, four times a day. The sit-in trainer, whose character name is Samuel P. Leonard, is a convincing actor and really gets his audience involved in the mock training. Volunteers take to stools up front while the rest or the audience encircles them. Leonard paints the scene, explaining how harsh words would be yelled and milkshakes dumped on them.
Would you have what it takes?
Sign up for our free email newsletter and receive the best stories from Smithsonian.com each week.