The ripple-effects of the Greensboro sit-in
Mark: Fifty years ago, four African-American college students sat down in the whites only section of a Woolworths' lunch counter in Greensboro. A wave of lunch counter protests followed in cities across the South, including Charlotte, helping to propel the civil rights movement. At the time, Charlotte attorney and civil rights activist Charles Jones was a student at Johnson C. Smith University. He remembers hearing the news from Greensboro on his car radio. Charles Jones: About 4:30 in the morning, up coming from (the) Virginia crossing line, I heard, on the radio, "today four young black students from A&T College, went down to Woolworths in Greensboro and sat and refused to move", and I said, yes, (laughing) that's my generation anthem, let's rock and roll. Mark: Ones went on to lead lunch counter protests in Charlotte. Charles: We had a meeting. I said, I don't know about y'all, but tomorrow morning, I'm going to put on my best Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, put on a little sweet water, and I'm going down to Woolworths, and I'm going to sit until we open and I ain't going to move. I thought maybe there would be a handful cause you know there were always some of the more informed radical type folks that I was around. The next day, Mark, there were 212 students at Johnson C. Smith outside of Biddle Hall, and we rolled downtownand Woolworths and Grants, and all of the lunch counters, sat in, and most of them closed down, and there it was. Yeah, I think that was on the 9th. Mark: What happened inside the businesses as you were there? Charles: Well, originally, of course, it was a shock to everybody. And managers couldn't figure out how we were going to handle this, what to do. I think Woolworths and Grants closed the lunch counters themselves, trying to figure out how to act, react. There was a quiet standoff. We didn't have the overt violence around the lunch counters that many of the other cities did. As a matter of fact, the power structure decided and told Chief Littlejohn to keep this as peaceful as possible, where they were trying to evolve an image of the banking center of the South, Charlotte, North Carolina, so there were moments when some young Klan folk came up from Monroe and then when some of them got to Belks at one point, the police quietly rounded them up and drove them back down to the city line and told them do not come back. As the boycott of the stores intensified, pretty much the entire black communitya number of whites were joining at this point. We had a consistent movement of coming down and sitting in. We had a continuous involvement of 200 or 300 more students because everybody had to not miss any class, had to be non-violent, etc., and yeah, we had strategy that responded to what the energy coming from the political power structure and the businesses were, so as they hesitated, we'd go back. They asked us to hold off a moment while they tried to negotiate and we did but it slowed up so we went back and forth. We were told after the Human Relations Biracial Committee ... is what it was ... the mayor set it up, they negotiated an agreement quietly and we were called and told we could come. So my father, Reverend J.T. Jones, and I, went down to, I think it was right on the corner of where Tryon and Trade ... quietly sat at the lunch counter. He ordered tuna fish, I ordered a hotdog, some of the worst coffee in the world, but anyway that's another thing. And he looked at me and said, "son, I'm proud of you," and I looked at him and said, "dad, I'm proud of you," and we quietly had dignity. Mark: Charles Jones is an attorney and civil rights activist in Charlotte.