Lawson writes . . . sharing thoughts and memories

August 9, 2010

The Greensboro Four

Filed under: Uncategorized — lawsonjolly @ 5:00 am

On Monday, February 1, 1960, I was driving from my church field in Caldwell, Texas to seminary in Ft. Worth.  As usual, I stopped in Waco to spend a few minutes with friends at Baylor.  I ate an early meal so that I would not have to prepare something when I got to my apartment.

I ate at my favorite snack shack where I ate so many times when I was a student.  There were only about six booths, and about ten stools at the counter. I generally sat at the counter, and I did on that day.  I was comfortable there with a few friends, and everyone else in the place looked familiar.  I had never thought of anyone eating there except students and a few local residents.

Unknown to me at that hour, some 1200 miles east in Greensboro, NC, four college students were sitting at a counter in Woolworth five-and-dime store.  But the scene was different from the counter where I was sitting.  My order was taken, the snack prepared, and served to me.  Those four college students ordered a snack, but the order was not taken.  They were denied service.

These four male college students from a local college in Greensboro were African-Americans.  The city of Greensboro, like most of southern cities and states, acted under the Jim Crow law.  It mandated that public facilities be separated between blacks and whites, but with equal status.  It was seen in restrooms, waiting rooms, and water fountains with signs “White” and “Colored.”  Of course, honesty will confess that from schools to medical treatment, public facilities for African-Americans were inferior.

That law gave the right to Woolworth to refuse service to these four students.  This was a non-violent protest.  The management did not ask them to leave.  They were simply ignored.  They had arrived prior to closing time, and remained until the store closed.  They had not expected to be served, but they desired to make a statement about the unfairness of such segregation.  The store would have served them if they had stood and ordered, and then stood to eat or leave with their food.  They were denied service because they sat on the stools!

Although there had been “sit-ins” in earlier years, this “sit-in” protest began a new movement in America.  Peacefully, these young men returned each of the following days.  And the numbers joining them increased, until within a week, hundreds were participating in “sit-ins” at other facilities, and in other cities across America.  This “sit-in” became the cornerstone of the Civil Rights Movement.  It led to the Freedom Rides, Mass Protest,  Selma March, and the gathering at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. with Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

This event got my attention.  How my world had changed . . . and was continuing to change!  I had grown up in a segregated society.  Yet, African-Americans were my friends, even as a child.  Oh, I was raised to see them as “equals,” but yet separate.  My parents had taught me respect for African-Americans, but I had become troubled by mores and rules that prevented socialization.  With one of my good friends, an African-American, we expressed anger that we could not go to the drive-in theatre, or other places, together.

I came to Baylor University as a 21 year old and saw the same.  There were no African-American students and the city was much like where I had grown up.  However, there was a college in town for African-Americans.  Through the invitation of a student from Nazareth, I  attended the church services and some classes at this college.  God was working on me.  God did a wonderful work in my life, and I saw the “equal” from the perspective of the true definition of the word.

What I was enjoying in that snack shop in Waco on that Monday was the privilege those four college students were asking.  That evening in my apartment, I listened to the radio and all the reporting of the event.  I don’t remember any comments I made to myself, or whether I prayed about the situation.  I do know that I began to follow with more interest the unfolding of the Civil Rights Movement.  I will never make judgment on the methods or some motives, but I know that the desired result was right.

I choose not to characterize color, but I do choose to believe in the dignity and worth of every individual.  After all, my Lord saw no distinction . . . and He gave His life for everyone!  “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.  Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

“This is the message you heard from the beginning; We should love one another.”  (1 John 3:11)


Related Blogs: Ku Klux Klan,; The Church Tested — Part One,; The Church Tested — Part Two, Church Tested — Part Three,


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