North Carolina: F.W. Woolworth Building

F.W. Woolworth Building
F.W. Woolworth Building, Photograph courtesy Greensboro Historical Museum.

Quick Facts

Location:
The F.W. Woolworth Building on South Elm Street (the Northeast Shopping Center) is part of the Downtown Greensboro Historic District.
Designation:
National Register of Historic Places
OPEN TO PUBLIC:
Yes

The Woolworth's Five & Dime in Greensboro, North Carolina, is historically significant for a unique sit-in that empowered student activists for the next decade and changed the face of segregation forever. On February 1, 1960, when four freshmen from the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina (listed in the National Register) took vacant seats at the store's "whites-only" lunch counter, they had no idea what might happen. Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, David Richmond, and Ezell Blair, Jr., sat down, ordered coffee and waited. The waitress ignored them, as did the store manager and a pacing policeman. Some white customers taunted the students, while two others patted them on the back, whispering "Ah, you should have done it ten years ago." 

The next day, the four young men returned with 19 supporters. By the third day, the number had risen to 85, including white and black students from neighboring colleges. Before the week was out, there were 400. They demonstrated in shifts so they wouldn't miss classes. Local officials asked for a two-week moratorium in which to consider solutions. Meanwhile, energized students staged smaller sit-ins in seven other North Carolina cities as well as in Hampton, Virginia, and Nashville, Tennessee. By summer, 33 southern cities, including Greensboro, had integrated their restaurants and lunch counters. One year later, 126 cities had taken the same step.

 

Visit the National Park Service We Shall Overcome travel itinerary to learn more about the civil rights movement themes and histories. Also, be sure to check out Civil Rights subject site.