Clarence Earl Gideon

Clarence Earl Gideon

Difficult start

Clarence Earl Gideon was born in Hannibal, Missouri on August 30, 1910. His father died when Clarence was three. His mother remarried, but Clarence and his step father did not get along.

When he was 14, Clarence ran away for a year.

Back in Missouri, but not with his mother, he stole clothes, got caught, and his mother asked to have him put into a reformatory.

He was released after a year and had the scars to prove the mistreatment he received there.

Clarence Earl Gideon

Continued hard times

Gideon married and got a job in a shoe factory.  He lost his job and after committing a number of crimes in Missouri was sentenced to ten years for robbery.

He was paroled but continued to run afoul the law.  According to an article in the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, “In 1934, he was convicted of theft of U.S. government property and conspiracy and sentenced to three years in Fort Leavenworth, where he was assigned to the shoe factory. In 1939, he was arrested on an unknown charge and again escaped from jail before trial. In 1940, he was convicted of burglary and larceny and sentenced as a repeat offender. In 1943, he escaped from prison and went to work on the Southern Pacific Railroad as a brakeman, using an assumed name and forged Selective Service card. The following year he was arrested on a tip, convicted of escape, and imprisoned until January 1950. In 1951, he was convicted of an unspecified crime in Texas and served 13 months.”

Clarence Earl Gideon

Bay Harbor Pool RoomClarence Earl Gideon

Gideon moved to Florida. On June 3, 1961, $5 in change and a few bottles of beer and soda were stolen from Bay Harbor Pool Room (Panama, FL), a pool hall that belonged to Ira Strickland, Jr.

Henry Cook, a 22-year-old resident who lived nearby, told the police that he had seen Clarence Earl Gideon walk out of the hall with a bottle of wine and his pockets filled with coins and then get into a cab and leave. Gideon was arrested in a tavern.

August 4, 1961:  being too poor to pay for counsel,  Gideon requested that the court appoint one.  Because of his extensive criminal record, he was familiar with that practice.

Robert McCrary, Jr, the trial judge, denied the request stating that in Florida a defendant was entitled to a court-appointed defense only in capital offense trials.

Though Gideon was mistaken is his assumption that he was entitled to a court-appointed lawyer, McCrary was also mistaken in that he could have, had he decided, appointed a lawyer.

Defending himself,  Gideon was tried and convicted of breaking and entering with intent to commit petty larceny.

Sentenced to 5 years

August 25, 1961: five days before his 51st birthday, McCrary sentenced Gideon to the maximum sentence: five years in prison.

Gideon appealed his conviction to the Florida Supreme Court. That court denied his appeal.

Supreme Court petition

Clarence Earl Gideon
This is the first page of Gideon’s handwritten petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gideon mailed a five-page hand-printed petition to the US Supreme Court asking the nine justices to consider his complaint.

It is often discussed whether, despite his familiarity with the justice system, Gideon could have written the petition himself.  Some have suggested that Gideon’s cellmate, Joseph A. Peel Jr, a lawyer and judge serving time for murder, had assisted Gideon.

January 5, 1962:  Whatever the circumstances, the Supreme Court, in reply, agreed to hear his appeal. Originally, the case was called Gideon v. Cochran.

January 15,  1963:  the Gideon v. Cochran case was argued at the US Supreme Court. Abe Fortas was assigned to represent Gideon. Bruce Jacob, the Assistant Florida Attorney General, was assigned to argue against Gideon.

Fortas argued (a recording of Fortas’s argument can be heard via the Oyez site)  that a common man with no training in law could not go up against a trained lawyer and win, and that “you cannot have a fair trial without counsel.”

Jacob argued that the issue at hand was a state issue, not federal; the practice of only appointing counsel under “special circumstances” in non-capital cases sufficed; that thousands of convictions would have to be thrown out if it were changed; and that Florida had followed for 21 years “in good faith” the 1942 Supreme Court ruling in Betts v. Brady.

The case’s original title, Gideon v. Cochran, was changed to Gideon v. Wainwright after Louie L. Wainwright replaced H. G. Cochran as the director of the Florida Division of Corrections. (NYT abstract)

Clarence Earl Gideon

Supreme court  decision

March 18, 1963: the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled that, The Sixth Amendment right to counsel is a fundamental right applied to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause, and requires that indigent criminal defendants be provided counsel at trial. Supreme Court of Florida reversed.

In other words, the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled that those accused of a crime have a constitutional right to a lawyer whether or not they can afford one.

About 2,000 convicted people in Florida alone were freed as a result of the Gideon decision; Gideon himself was not freed. He instead got another trial. (NYT article)

Clarence Earl Gideon

Gideon’s retrial

August 5, 1963: Gideon had chosen W. Fred Turner to be his lawyer for his second trial. Turner picked apart the testimony of eyewitness Henry Cook. Turner also got a statement from the cab driver who took Gideon from Bay Harbor, Florida to a bar in Panama City, Florida, stating that Gideon was carrying neither wine, beer nor Coke when he picked him up, even though Cook had testified that he watched Gideon walk from the pool hall to the phone, then wait for a cab.

Furthermore, although in the first trial Gideon had not cross-examined the cab driver about his statement that Gideon had told him to keep the taxi ride a secret, Turner’s cross-examination revealed that Gideon had said that to the cab driver previously because “he had trouble with his wife.”

The jury acquitted Gideon after one hour of deliberation.

Clarence Earl Gideon

Attorney General Robert Kennedy

November 1, 1963: in a speech before The New England Conference on the Defense of Indigent Persons Accused of Crime, Attorney General Robert Kennedy stated: “If an obscure Florida convict named Clarence Earl Gideon had not sat down in prison with a pencil and paper to write a letter to the Supreme Court, and if the Supreme Court had not taken the trouble to look for merit in that one crude petition among all the bundles of mail it must receive every day, the vast machinery of American law would have gone on functioning undisturbed.”

Gideon’s Trumpet

Clarence Earl Gideon

January 28, 1964,: the publication of Gideon’s Trumpet by Anthony Lewis. The book provided history of Gideon’s landmark case.

Clarence Earl Gideon


January 18, 1972: after his acquittal, Gideon resumed his previous way of life and married again. He died of cancer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida at age 61. Gideon’s family in Missouri accepted his body and buried him in an unmarked grave.

Clarence Earl Gideon

April 30, 1980: made for TV movie and a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation, Gideon’s Trumpet, aired on CBS. The moved starred Henry Fonda as Clarence Earl Gideon, José Ferrer as Abe Fortas and John Houseman as Earl Warren (though Warren’s name was never mentioned in the film; he was billed simply as “The Chief Justice”). Houseman also provided the off screen closing narration at the end of the film. Lewis himself appeared in a small role as “The Reporter”.

Clarence Earl Gideon

November 1984 The local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union added a granite headstone, inscribed with a quote from a letter Gideon wrote to his attorney, Abe Fortas: “I believe that each era finds an improvement in law for the benefit of mankind.”

Clarence Earl Gideon

Law v reality

March 16, 2013: approaching the 50th anniversary of  Gideon v. Wainwright, a NYT article stated, the Legal Services Corporation, the Congressionally financed organization that provides lawyers to the poor in civil matters, says there are more than 60 million Americans — 35 percent more than in 2005 — who qualify for its services. But it calculates that 80 percent of the legal needs of the poor go unmet. In state after state, according to a survey of trial judges, more people are now representing themselves in court and they are failing to present necessary evidence, committing procedural errors and poorly examining witnesses, all while new lawyers remain unemployed… According to the World Justice Project, a nonprofit group promoting the rule of law that got its start through the American Bar Association, the United States ranks 66th out of 98 countries in access to and affordability of civil legal services.

Clarence Earl Gideon

Irish Troubles Na Trioblóidí

Irish Troubles Na Trioblóidí

Colonized v Colonizers

I suppose there are examples of colonists who preferred colonization to their former independence, but human history is filled with examples of the opposite. That is, the colonized attempting to overthrow the colonizers.

Americans’ most important date is July 4, the date that commemorates their Declaration of Independence.

Irish Troubles Na Trioblóidí

 Pope Adrian IV

Irish Troubles Na Trioblóidí

More than 750 years after the English-born Roman arrived in Ireland to convert it to Christianity, Pope Adrian issued a papal Bull known as the  “Laudabiliter” in 1156. Think of an American president’s Executive Order,  only more powerful.

The Bull gave Henry II, king of England  the Pope’s permission to invade Ireland “for the correction of morals and the introduction of virtues, for the advancement of the Christian religion.”

The Bull also stated “And may the people of that land receive thee with honor, and venerate thee as their master.

Irish Troubles Na Trioblóidí

And so it began…

Over the next 800 years there were regular attempts by the colonized Irish to regain independence. These attempts sometimes partially succeeded, but were more often repulsed.

By the mid-1920s, the Island of Ireland was in two parts: a Republic and Northern Ireland, a province of the United Kingdom.

Despite the success of independence in the south, there were still many in Northern Ireland who continued to support a united Ireland.

Irish Troubles Na Trioblóidí


There is no exact or official date for the start of the Troubles, but by 1964 civil rights activists had been protesting against the discrimination against Catholics and Irish nationalists by the Ulster Protestant and unionist government of Northern Ireland.

Irish Troubles Na Trioblóidí

Bogside Massacre

Irish Troubles Na Trioblóidí

This piece will begin on January 30, 1972: in Derry (Londonderry) Northern Ireland, British paratroopers responded to a civil rights march by Catholics, in defiance of a ban against marches, and shot dead thirteen unarmed marchers. The day became known as “Bloody Sunday” or the “Bogside Massacre.”

February 2, 1972:  Prime Minister Edward Heath commissions the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Widgery to undertake a tribunal into the Jan 30 shootings in Derry.

July 21, 1972:  Bloody Friday: 22 bombs planted by the Provisional IRA explode in Belfast, Northern Ireland; nine people are killed and 130 seriously injured.

Irish Troubles Na Trioblóidí

late 1970s

January 4, 1976:the Ulster Volunteer Force kills six Irish Catholic civilians in County Armagh, Northern Ireland. The next day 10 Protestant civilians are murdered in retaliation.

Irish Troubles Na Trioblóidí

August 27, 1979: Lord Mountbatten of Burma and 3 others were assassinated by the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Mountbatten was a British admiral, statesman and an uncle of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. On the same day, the Warrenpoint ambush occurs: Provisional Irish Republican Army members attack a British convoy at Narrow Water, County Down, killing 18 British soldiers.

November 23, 1979: in Dublin, Ireland, Provisional Irish Republican Army member Thomas McMahon was sentenced to life in prison for the assassination of Lord Mountbatten of Burma.

Irish Troubles Na Trioblóidí

Hunger Strikes

Irish Troubles Na Trioblóidí

March 1, 1981: Bobby Sands, a Provisional Irish Republican Army member, began a hunger strike for political status in Long Kesh prison.

March 3, 1981: Humphrey Atkins, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, made a statement in the House of Commons in which he said that there would be no political status for prisoners regardless of the hunger strike.

March 15, 1981: Francis Hughes, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner in the Maze Prison, joined Bobby Sands on hunger strike. 

March 22, 1981: Raymond McCreesh, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner in the Maze Prison, and Patsy O’Hara, then leader of Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoners in the Maze, joined the hunger strike.

April 10, 1981:imprisoned IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands won election to the British Parliament.

April 28, 1981: the private secretary of Pope John Paul II paid a visit to Bobby Sands in the Maze Prison but was unable to persuade him to end his hunger strike. Humphrey Atkins, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, stated that: “If Mr Sands persisted in his wish to commit suicide, that was his choice. The government would not force medical treatment upon him.” President Ronald Reagan said that America would not intervene in the situation in Northern Ireland but he was “deeply concerned” at events there. 

May 5, 1981: Bobby Sands, died aged 27.

May 6, 1981: the day after Bobby Sands’ death, the British government sent 600 extra British troops into Northern Ireland.

Irish Troubles Na Trioblóidí

May 7, 1981: An estimated 100,000 people attended the funeral of Bobby Sands in Belfast.

May 8, 1981: Joe McDonnell, then an Irish Republican Army prisoner in the Maze Prison, joined the hunger strike to take the place of Bobby Sands.

May 12, 1981: after 59 days on hunger strike Francis Hughes (25), an Irish Republican Army  prisoner in the Maze Prison, died. [Hughes’ death led to a further surge in rioting in Nationalist areas of Northern Ireland, particularly in Belfast and Derry. In Dublin a group of 2,000 people tried to break into the British Embassy. 

May 14, 1981: Brendan McLaughlin, an Irish Republican Army prisoner in the Maze Prison, joined the hunger strike to replace Francis Hughes [McLaughlin was taken off the strike on 26 May when he suffered a perforated ulcer and internal bleeding.] 

May 21 1981:  Raymond McCreesh (24), a Irish Republican Army prisoner, and Patsy O’Hara (23), an Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoner, both died having spent 61 days on hunger strike. 

May 22, 1981: Kieran Doherty, an Irish Republican Army prisoner in the Maze Prison, joined the hunger strike. 

May 29, 1981: the names of four prisoners on hunger strike together with five other Republican prisoners, were put forward as candidates in the forthcoming general election in the Republic of Ireland.

June 8, 1981: Tom McElwee, then an Irish Republican Army prisoner, joined the hunger strike.

June 15, 1981: Sinn Féin issued a statement to say that a Republican prisoner would join the hunger strike every week. [This was seen as a stepping-up of the hunger strike. Paddy Quinn, then an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner joined the strike.]

July 8, 1981: Irish Republican Joe McDonnell died at the Long Kesh Internment Camp after a 61-day hunger strike.

July 10. 1981: funeral for Joe McDonnell. The British Army moved to arrest an IRA firing party at the funeral and seized a number of weapons and made several arrests. Rioting broke out following this incident.

July 13, 1981: Martin Hurson (29) died after 46 days on hunger strike.

August 1, 1981: The seventh hunger striker died. Kevin Lynch (25) died after 71 days on hunger strike. Lynch was a member of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA).

August 2, 1981: the eighth hunger striker died. Kieran Doherty (25) died after 73 days on hunger strike.

August 8, 1981:  ninth hunger striker dies. Thomas McElwee (23) died after 62 days on hunger strike. This weekend marked the tenth Anniversary of the introduction of Internment and there were widespread riots in Republican areas. Three people were killed during disturbances over the weekend.

August 9, 1981: Liam Canning (19), a Catholic civilian, was shot dead by the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), a covername used by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), as he walked along Alliance Avenue, Ardoyne, Belfast. Peter Maguinness (41), a Catholic civilian, was shot dead by a plastic bullet fired by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) while he was outside his home on the Shore Road, Greencastle, Belfast. There were continuing riots in Nationalist areas of Northern Ireland.

August 20, 1981: tenth hunger striker dies. Michael Devine (27) died after 60 days on hunger strike.

Irish Troubles Na Trioblóidí

October 3, 1981: those Republican prisoners who had still been refusing food decided to end their hunger strike. At this stage in the protest six prisoners were on hunger strike. The prisoners took their decision when it became clear that each of their families would ask for medical intervention to save their lives. 

October 6, 1981:  Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Prior, announced a number of changes in prison policy, one of which would allowed prisoners to wear their civilian clothes at all times. This was one of the five key demands that had been made at the start of the hunger strike. Prior also announced other changes: free association would be allowed in neighboring wings of each H-Block, in the exercise areas and in recreation rooms; an increase in the number of visits each prisoner would be entitled to.

Irish Troubles Na Trioblóidí

Continued bombings

Irish Troubles Na Trioblóidí

July 20, 1982: the Provisional IRA detonated 2 bombs in central London, killing 8 soldiers, wounding 47 people.

September 25, 1983: Maze Prison escape: 38 Irish republican prisoners, armed with six handguns, hijack a prison meals lorry and smash their way out of HMP Maze, in the largest prison escape since World War II and in British history.

December 17, 1983:  a Provisional IRA car bomb killed 6 Christmas shoppers and injured 90 outside Harrods in London.

October 12, 1984:  The Provisional Irish Republican Army attempts to assassinate Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the British Cabinet in the Brighton hotel bombing.

February 28, 1985: the Provisional Irish Republican Army carried out a mortar attack on the Royal Ulster Constabulary police station at Newry, killing 9 officers in the highest loss of life for the RUC on a single day.

November 15, 1985:  Britain and Ireland signed an accord giving Dublin an official consultative role in governing Northern Ireland.

November 8, 1987: a bomb planted by the Irish Republican Army exploded as crowds gathered in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, for a ceremony honoring Britain’s war dead, killing 11 people.

March 16, 1988: Milltown Cemetery attack: during a funeral for three Provisional IRA volunteers, Ulster Defence Association (UDA) volunteer Michael Stone attacked the crowd with grenades and pistols, killing three and wounding over sixty.

March 19, 1988: two British Army Corporals were killed after driving straight into a funeral for the victims of the Milltown Cemetery attack three days earlier, after they were mistakenly thought to be carrying out a similar attack to the one by Ulster Defence Association (UDA) member Michael Stone, in which he killed three Catholics attending the funeral.

September 22, 1989: Deal barracks bombing: An IRA bomb explodes at the Royal Marine School of Music in Deal, Kent, United Kingdom, leaving 11 dead and 22 injured.

April 10, 1992: a Provisional Irish Republican Army bomb exploded in the Baltic Exchange in the City of London; 3 are killed, 91 injured.

December 15, 1993: the Downing Street Declaration, issued jointly by UK and the Republic of Ireland, affirms the UK would transfer Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland only if a majority of Northern Ireland’s people approved.

“Zombie” is a protest song by  written about the 1993 IRA bombing in Warrington, and in memory of two young victims, Johnathan Ball and Tim Parry.

August 31, 1994: the Provisional Irish Republican Army announced a “complete cessation of military operations.” (from February 1996 until July 1997, the Provisional IRA called off its 1994 ceasefire because of its dissatisfaction with the state of negotiations.)

February 18, 1996: an IRA briefcase bomb in a bus kills the bomber and injures 9 in the West End of London.

Irish Troubles Na Trioblóidí

Another ceasfire

July 19, 1997: the Provisional IRA re-instated the ceasefire.

September 9, 1997: Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army’s political ally, formally renounced violence as it took its place in talks on Northern Ireland’s future.

Irish Troubles Na Trioblóidí

In November 1997, IRA dissidents held a meeting in a farmhouse in Oldcastle, County Meath, and a new organisation, styling itself Óglaigh na hÉireann, was formed. It eventually became known as the Real IRA.

December 11, 1997: Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams became the first political ally of the IRA to meet a British leader in 76 years. He conferred with Prime Minister Tony Blair in London.

In January 1998 :after 15 years and many media reports suggesting the original tribunal’s inquiry was flawed, a second commission of inquiry, chaired by Lord Saville, was established  to re-examine ‘Bloody Sunday’.

Irish Troubles Na Trioblóidí

Belfast Agreement

Irish Troubles Na Trioblóidí

April 10, 1998: the Belfast Agreement signed between the Irish and British governments and most Northern Ireland political parties.

May 22, 1998:voters in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland cast ballots giving resounding approval to a Northern Ireland peace accord.

Irish Troubles Na Trioblóidí

October 16, 1998: David Trimble and John Hume were named recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering the Northern Ireland peace accord.

November 29, 1999: Protestant and Catholic adversaries formed a Northern Ireland government.

December 2, 1999:a power-sharing cabinet of Protestants and Catholics sat down together for the first time in Northern Ireland.

July 28, 2005: the Provisional IRA issued a statement formally ordering an end to the armed campaign it has pursued since 1969 and ordering all its units to dump their arms.

September 25, 2005: two months after announcing its intention to disarm, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) gave up its weapons in front of independent weapons inspectors. The decommissioning of the group s substantial arsenal took place in secret locations in the Republic of Ireland. One Protestant and one Catholic priest as well as officials from Finland and the United States served as witnesses to the historic event. Automatic weapons, ammunition, missiles and explosives were among the arms found in the cache, which the head weapons inspector described as “enormous.”

Irish Troubles Na Trioblóidí

21st Century Simmering

Irish Troubles Na Trioblóidí

June 15, 2010:  the report on the second inquiry into Sunday Bloody Sunday (1972) is published. It stated, “The firing by soldiers of 1 PARA on Bloody Sunday caused the deaths of 13 people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury,” and also said, “The immediate responsibility for the deaths and injuries on Bloody Sunday lies with those members of Support Company whose unjustifiable firing was the cause of those deaths and injuries.”  The head of the committee, Lord Saville of Newdigate, stated that British paratroopers “lost control.”

A series of riots between 20 June 2011 and 16 July 2011, starting originally in Belfast, before spreading to other parts of Northern Ireland. They were initiated by the Ulster Volunteer Force.

1 November 2012  prison Officer, David Black, was shot dead on the M1 motorway near Craigavon while driving to work. The shots were fired from another car, which drove alongside. The Real IRA claimed responsibility.

March 4, 2016,  prison officer Adrian Ismay died from a heart attack in a hospital. He had been seriously wounded by a booby-trap bomb which detonated under his van on Hillsborough Drive, East Belfast 11 days earlier. These wounds were directly responsible for the heart attack that killed him. The “New IRA” claimed responsibility and said it was a response to the alleged mistreatment of republican prisoners at Maghaberry Prison. It added that the officer was targeted because he trained prison officers at Maghaberry.

Irish Troubles Na Trioblóidí


Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

Sit ins

When Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr. and David Richmond sat down at the F.W. Woolworth store in Greensboro, N.C, they were continuing a non-violent strategy that other had used before them. Here is a chronology of these brave people, their story, their influence, and their successes.

The majority of the data for this chronology came from the Sit In Movement dot org site)

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

Greensboro Four

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

February 1, 1960:  Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr. and David Richmond (The Greensboro Four) entered the F.W. Woolworth store in Greensboro, N.C., around 4:30 p.m. and purchased merchandise at several counters. (Independent Lens bios of the Greensboro Four)

They sat down at the store’s “whites only” lunch counter and ordered coffee, and were denied service, ignored and then asked to leave. They remained seated at the counter until the store closed early at 5 p.m. The four friends immediately returned to campus and recruited others for the cause.

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

Greensboro 29

February 2, 1960:  twenty-five men, including the four freshmen, along with four women returned to the F.W. Woolworth store. The students sat from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. while white patrons heckled them. Undaunted, they sat with books and study materials to keep them busy. They were still refused service.

Reporters from both newspapers, a TV camera man and Greensboro police officers monitored the scene. Once the sit-ins hit the news, momentum picked up and students across the community embraced the movement.

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

Student Executive Committee for Justice

That night, students met with college officials and concerned citizens. They organized the Student Executive Committee for Justice to plan the continued demonstrations. This committee sent a letter to the president of F.W. Woolworth in New York requesting that his company “take a firm stand to eliminate discrimination”. Meanwhile, at its regular monthly meeting, the NAACP voted in unanimous support of the students’ efforts. 

February 3, 1960: more than 60 students, one-third of them female, returned to the Greensboro store and sat down at every available lunch counter seat. Students from Bennett College and Dudley High School increased the number of protesters, and many carpooled to and from the F.W. Woolworth store to sit-in shifts.

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

Local custom

Members of the Ku Klux Klan, including the state’s official chaplain George Dorsett, were present. White patrons taunted the students as they studied. A statement issued from F.W. Woolworth’s national headquarters read that company policy was “to abide by local custom.” 

February 4, 1960: more than 300 students participated in the protests. Students from N.C. A & T, Bennett College, and Dudley High School occupied every seat at the lunch counter. Three white supporters (Genie Seaman, Marilyn Lott and Ann Dearsley) from the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (now UNCG), joined the protest.

As tensions grew, police kept the crowd in check. Waiting students then marched to the basement lunch counter at S.H. Kress & Co., the second store targeted by the Student Executive Committee, and the Greensboro sit-ins spread.

That evening, student leaders, college administrators and representatives from F.W. Woolworth and Kress stores held talks. The stores refused to integrate as long as other downtown facilities remained segregated. Students insisted the F.W. Woolworth and Kress retail stores would remain targets, and the meeting ended without resolution.

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

Tensions mount

Febuary 5, 1960: tensions mounted early in the day when 50 white males were seated at the Woolworth counter. Sit-in participants, including white students from area colleges, filled the dozen or so remaining seats. Police removed two white youth from the store for swearing and yelling. By 3 p.m., more than 300 people were present. Members of both races were escorted from the premises. Three whites were arrested and the store closed at 5:30 pm.

Store representatives, students and college officials met once again that evening. F.W. Woolworth personnel took issue with the students limiting their protests to two stores and asked college administrators to end the sit-ins. Administrators plainly stated they could not control the private activities of students. Some administrators recommended store officials consider temporarily closing the counters. The meeting adjourned after two hours of debate. 

February 6, 1960: early that morning, more than 1,400 N.C. A & T students met in Harrison Auditorium. After voting to continue the protest, many headed to the F.W. Woolworth store. They filled every seat as the store opened. A large number of counter protesters showed up as well. By noon, more than 1,000 people packed the store.

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

Bomb threat

At 1 p.m., a caller warned a bomb was set to explode at 1:30 p.m. The crowd moved to the Kress store, which immediately closed. Arrests were made outside both stores. The F.W. Woolworth store was cleared and closed as the the manager announced the temporary closing of the lunch counter in the interest of public safety.

That evening at N.C. A&T, a mass rally of 1,600 students voted to suspend demonstrations for two weeks. Dean William Gamble proclaimed this would give the stores time “to set policies regarding food service for Negro students.”

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

Sit ins expand

February 8 – 14 1960:   students in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Durham, N.C., held sit-ins to demonstrate their solidarity with Greensboro students. Sit-in protests quickly followed in North Carolina cities such as Charlotte, Raleigh, Fayetteville and High Point. The movement also gained momentum and spread to Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and even F.W. Woolworth stores in New York City.

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

February 13, 1960:   led by Diane Nash and James Bevel, and inspired by Rev. James Lawson’s philosophy of nonviolence, 100 African-American students from Fisk University and Tennessee A & I University (now Tennessee State University) began a sit-in to desegregate public facilities in Nashville. (Tennessean article on Nash)

February 15 – 21, 1960: Edward R. Zane, a member of the Greensboro City Council, worked with students to reach a compromise. The Mayor agreed to appoint a committee to address the issue, and the protestors agreed to continue negotiations. Several Greensboro associations, including The Board of Directors of the Greensboro Council of Church Women, the YWCA and several ministerial alliances came out in favor of integration.

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

Richmond sit in

February 22, 1960: about 200 students, led by Frank George Pinkston and Charles Melvin Sherrod, marched from the Virginia Union University campus to downtown Richmond, shutting down the shopping district. Police arrested 34 students taking part in sit-ins and pickets at Thalhimer’s Department Store.

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

Greensboro Advisory Committee

February 22 – 28, 1960: the lunch counters at F.W. Woolworth and Kress stores reopened, but were still segregated. Greensboro Mayor George H. Roach introduced the Greensboro Advisory Committee on Community Relations representing the City Council, the Chamber of Commerce and the Merchants Association. Chairman Ed Zane worked to increase public support for integration of lunch counters, encouraging people to write and express their opinions on the racial situation.

By the end of February, the sit-in movement had spread to more than 30 cities in eight states.

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

Montgomery sit in

February 25, 1960: six students at the Alabama State College for Negroes, a state operated institution of higher learning for prospective Negro school teachers. along with 20 other students entered a publicly owned lunch grill in the basement of the courthouse in Montgomery, and asked to be served. Service was refused and the lunchroom was closed. “The Negroes refused to leave,” and police were called. 

February 29, 1960: Alabama Governor John Patterson held a news conference to condemn the sit-in by the six Alabama State College students.  Patterson, who was also chairman of the State Board of Education, threatened to terminate Alabama State College’s funding unless it expelled the student organizers and warned that “someone [was] likely to be killed” if the protests continued. 

March 1, 1960: over 1000 people marched from the Alabama State College campus to the state capital and back. After this march, the president of the university expelled 9 students identified as leaders and suspended 20 other students, under pressure from the governor’s office. As a result of this, students at the college voted to boycott classes and exams. 

March 2, 1960: Alabama State College expelled the nine student leaders of the March 1 courthouse sit-in.

More than 1000 students immediately pledged a mass strike, threatened to withdraw from the school, and staged days of demonstrations; 37 students were arrested. Montgomery Police Commissioner L.B. Sullivan recommended closing the college, which he claimed produced only “graduates of hate and racial bitterness.” Meanwhile, six of the nine expelled students sought reinstatement through a federal lawsuit.

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

Felton Turner

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

March 7, 1960: in reaction to sit-ins, 18-year-old Ronald Erickson abducted by Felton Turner of Houston beat him, and hung him by his knees upside down in a tree, after carving the initials KKK on Turner’s chest. Turner survived and escaped.

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

Atlanta sit in

March 15, 1960: Julian Bond, civil rights activist and future Georgia state senator, led more than 200 Atlanta area students in the first sit-in protest in Atlanta, challenging segregated public accommodations. They presented “An Appeal for Human Rights” to city officials. (Today in Civil Rights site article)

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

Greensboro Advisory Committee

March 31, 1960: of the 2,000 citizen letters the Advisory Committee received, 73 percent favored integrated lunch counters. The hotly debated topic was constantly in the news. The Greensboro Record reported a letter signed by 68 white citizens urged that “service to all customers at the lunch counters in these stores be entirely on a ‘first come, first served’ basis, just as it is in other areas of these establishments.” Chairman Zane and the Advisory Committee held numerous meetings with representatives from F.W. Woolworth, Kress and other downtown businesses. All refused to integrate. On March 31, a disappointed Edward Zane met with student leaders to break the news.

By the end of March, the sit-in Movement had spread to 55 cities in 13 states. 

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

Greensboro sit ins continue

April 1, 1960: students resumed sit-in activities at the Kress and F.W. Woolworth stores and began picketing on Elm and Sycamore streets. That evening at a mass meeting, more than 1,200 students pledged to continue the protests. 

April 2, 1960: both the F.W. Woolworth and Kress stores officially closed their lunch counters.

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

Thurgood Marshall

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

April 3, 1960: speaking at Bennett College, NAACP legal council Thurgood Marshall urged attendees not to compromise. The protests strengthened after local leaders organized an economic boycott of the two stores.

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

SNCC forms

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

April 16 – 17, 1960: Easter weekend, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) organized a meeting of sit-in students from all over the nation at Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C. Leader Ella Baker encouraged students to form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “snick”) to organize the effort.

SNCC helped coordinate sit-ins and other direct action. From their ranks came many of today’s leaders, including Congressman John Lewis and longtime NAACP leader Julian Bond. At the conference, Guy Carawan sang a new version of “We Shall Overcome,” which became the national anthem of the civil rights movement. Workers joined hands and gently swayed in time, singing “black and white together,” repeating, “Deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome some day.”

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

Nashville bombing

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

April 19, 1960: terrorists bomb the home of Z. Alexander Looby, a Nashville civil rights lawyer who defended students arrested in Nashville, TN sit-ins.  He and his wife survive. (History Makers post about Looby)

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

Greensboro arrests

April 21, 1960: police arrested forty-five students (including Ezell Blair, Jr., Joseph McNeil, David Richmond and 13 Bennett College students) for trespassing as they sat at the Kress store lunch counter. All were released without bail.

In June 1960: when N.C. A&T and Bennett College students left the Greensboro for the summer, Dudley High School students took up the charge. William Thomas led the students as the protests expanded to Meyers and Walgreen.

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

Woolworth relents

July 21, 1960: F.W. Woolworth manager Clarence Harris met with Chairman Zane and the Advisory Committee in his store. He informed them that F.W. Woolworth’s would soon serve all properly dressed and well-behaved people. Kress manager H.E. Hogate was present.

July 25, 1960: F.W. Woolworth employees Charles Bess, Mattie Long, Susie Morrison and Jamie Robinson were the first African-Americans to eat at the lunch counter. The headline of The Greensboro Record read “Lunch Counters Integrated Here”. The Kress counter opened to all on the same day.

July 26, 1960: F.W. Woolworth desegregated. 

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

Desegregation expands

October 17, 1960: in response to the sit-ins that had began on February 1, several chain stores announced on this day that they would desegregate their lunch counters in North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and seven other southern states. This decision was arguably the greatest single victory for the sit-in movement, but many restaurants continued to segregate.

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

Sit ins continue

October 19, 1960: King was arrested along with students, eventually numbering 280, after conducting mass sit-ins at Rich’s Department Store and other Atlanta stores. The others were freed, but the judge sentenced King to four months in prison. Legal efforts secured his release after eight days. A boycott of the store followed, and by the fall of 1961, Rich’s began to desegregate.

By August 1961, more than 70,000 people had participated in sit-ins, which resulted in more than 3,000 arrests. Sit-ins at “whites only” lunch counters inspired subsequent kneel-ins at segregated churches, sleep-ins at segregated motel lobbies, swim-ins at segregated pools, wade-ins at segregated beaches, read-ins at segregated libraries, play-ins at segregated parks and watch-ins at segregated movies.

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

Greensboro 4 Desegregate Lunch Counters

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