Monday, May 20, 2013

WC Students, Tate Street, and Desegregation in 1963

While the February 1960 sit-in at Greensboro’s F.W. Woolworth store downtown is well known, fewer people are knowledgeable about a second round of protests that escalated in Greensboro in the Spring of 1963. A number of Woman’s College (WC) students participated in the 1960 sit-ins, but the 1963 movement hit the students of WC a bit closer to home. While the protests stretched around town, one aspect of the movement was primarily targeted at businesses located on Tate Street, in the area known as “The Corner.”

Chancellor Otis Singletary
On February 27, 1963, 23 WC students (most African American) wrote Chancellor Otis Singletary asking him to immediately begin working towards desegregation of the Corner, a business area adjacent to the WC campus. The students wrote “This college has accepted us as students, therefore, as members of the Woman’s College community. Since we are accepted as such, we feel that the college has the responsibility of seeing that we receive the same privileges as any other member of this community. As of now, we are not granted such opportunities.” They added that “the decision to accept Negro students to Woman’s College implies the decision to give them your full moral support, not just a limited, partial support.”

The letter to Singletary earned a swift response. On March 13, he set up a meeting with a local business owner and Dean of Students Katherine Taylor. In the meeting, Singletary stressed that he recognized that he had no official authority to dictate policy to the business owners of the Corner, but he wished to request “unofficially that all students at the Woman’s College be served at the Corner eating places and admitted to the Cinema Theatre.” Singletary warned that, if the present segregationist policy continued, the students would likely begin picketing and boycotting these businesses.

On that same day - March 13, 1963 - the WC Student Government Association passed a resolution urging Singletary to "use his authority and influence as a college official" to convince owners of business on the Corner to desegregate their facilities. Specifically, they called out two restaurants - the Apple House and the Town and Country – as well as the Cinema Theatre on Tate Street. SGA’s resolution carried the same argument as the letter from the students to Singletary – the WC is integrated and its local businesses should be too.

SGA resolution calling for a boycott
of segregated businesses on Tate Street, 1963
 Three days later on Thursday, May 16, 1963, the WC SGA issued a call for "selective buying campaign" directed at the Tate Street merchants. On that same day, the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce and the Merchants Association passed resolutions calling for equal access in all local businesses. Coinciding with a week of massive marches and demonstrations around Greensboro, approximately two dozen WC students picketed the offending Tate Street businesses they considered part of their campus community. One local businessman wrote Dean of Students Taylor that “it was disturbing, to say the least, to observe the fine looking young ladies harassing these local businessmen by parading before their places of business today … They appear determined to destroy our way of life and some of the business people whose taxes are educating them.”

Rallies and protests continued throughout Greensboro during the summer months. On May 22, 1963, more than two thousand African Americans of all ages and classes silently marched to downtown Greensboro to show their dedication to achieving racial equality, making it the largest march in the city’s history. A few days later, 1,643 white residents of Greensboro allowed their names to be published by the Greensboro Daily News in a full-page and partial-page ad in support of the integration of Greensboro’s businesses. On June 4, over five hundred students and adults joined North Carolina A&T student body president Jesse Jackson in a silent march. The next evening, Jackson led close to seven hundred African Americans to City Hall and was charged with “inciting a riot.” Protests continued throughout town, leading Greensboro Mayor David Schenk to issue an appeal to all businesses to desegregate immediately and for activists to halt their protests.

By June 13, eight more Greensboro restaurants chose to desegregate, making approximately one-quarter of local establishments open to African Americans. In July, the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce and the Merchants Association insisted on a resolution calling for the immediate desegregation of all public spaces. And by the fall of 1963, close to 40 percent of Greensboro businesses had been integrated – including the institutions on Tate Street.

More information about the 1963 desegregation protests and marches – including more images and original documents – can be found at Civil Rights Greensboro.

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