The sit ins begin

Sam Smith – 55 years ago this month I covered sit ins in Arlington Va for WWDC News. In February 1960, four black college students had sat down at a white-only Woolworths lunch counter in Greensboro, NC. Within two weeks, there were sit-ins in fifteen cities in five southern states and within two months they had spread to fifty four cities in nine states. In April the leaders of these protests had come together, heard a moving sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. and formed the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. The summer I had first worked for WWDC News and Deadline Washington News Service, I had covered the passage of the first civil rights legislation in Congress since 1875. Now it was getting serious. By the end of June, I was covering the desegregation of lunch counters in Northern Virginia after sit-ins led a Howard Divinity School student, Lawrence Henry.

Henry then led a group protesting at Glen Echo amusement park. Although I saved few recordings from that period — tape was expensive and usually recycled — I still have the raw sounds I made that day. As seen in the photo, a guard and Henry confront each other

Are you white or colored?
Am I white or colored?
That’s correct. That’s what I want to know. Can I ask your race?
My race. I belong to the human race.
All right. This park is segregated.
I don’t understand what you mean.
It’s strictly for white people
It’s strictly for white persons?
Uh-hum. It has been for years. . .
You’re telling me that because my skin is black I can not come into your park?
Not because your skin is black. I asked you what your race was.
I would like to know why I can not come into your park.
Because the park is segregated. It is private property.
Just what class of people do you allow to come in here?
White people
So you’re saying you exclude the American Negro.
That’s right.
Who is a citizen of the United States.
That’s right.
I see.

As a biracial group marched outside with picket signs, Henry led a group inside to sit-in at the restaurant and mount the carousel horses. The case ended up in court and less than a year later, the park opened for all.

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