Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Wichita Sit-ins Recognized by NAACP

Sit-ins at lunch counters are a well-known part of the civil rights movement. There is a an important part of that story is almost unknown.

During the 1940s, CORE, the Congress on Racial Equality, an organization of socialists, pacificists, and others, used sit-ins to desegregate a number of restaurants in the Chicago area. Almost two decades later, sit-ins by Negro students in Nashville, Tennessee, and then to hundreds of communities across the South caught the nation's attention and helped intensify the modern civil rights movement.

But, the first student sit-ins of the modern civil rights movement took place, not in Nashville, not in Greensboro, North Carolina, but in Wichita, Kansas and Oklahoma City.

Today the national NAACP is recognizing those pioneers.

Christina Woods writes about it in the Wichita Eagle

It was 48 years ago today that Ron Walters and other members of the local NAACP Youth chapter sat down inside Dockum Drugstore in downtown Wichita.
By silently sitting to demand service, the youths, ages 15 to 22, were protesting the discriminatory practice that pushed black people outside to eat while white people dined inside.
Less than four weeks later, the business agreed on Aug. 11, 1958, to desegregate all nine of its Wichita locations.
Wichita's sit-in story is largely unknown outside of Wichita, even though it sparked sit-ins by the NAACP youth chapter in Oklahoma City.
But much of that anonymity should change today.
The National NAACP is officially recognizing Wichita's sit-in as the first youth-led lunch counter sit-in that brought about widespread changes.
Walters and a representative from the Oklahoma sit-in, Clara Luper, will accept the honor tonight during the organization's annual convention in Washington D.C.
"They're going to be recognized as the youth councils that led some of the first protests," said John C. White, the NAACP's national spokesman.
The Eagle also has a very nice multimedia feature on the sit-ins.

After looking at the multimedia stuff, I thought, "gee, the Eagle should have reprinted some of their articles and photos from the period. Woods explains why they didn't.
The Eagle carried just one article on the local demonstration. No photos were published.
"Those stories never got in," said Mary Cooley Gardner, a former Eagle columnist and reporter from 1957 to 1961.
Staff was instructed not to write articles that would upset the downtown business community.
For more about the Wichita sit-ins and civil rights movement, read Gretchen Cassel Eick's Dissent in Wichita.

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