Racism for Lunch

Peter Ling describes how the refusal of four black students to accept a lunch-counter colour bar led to the collapse of segregation in the American south.

With purchases and receipts from other parts of the store, four black students seated themselves at the Woolworth's lunch-counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. Ezell Blair asked for a cup of coffee. The waitress replied: ‘I'm sorry. We don't serve Negroes here.’ Blair responded: ‘I beg to disagree with you. You just finished serving me at a counter only two feet away.’ The waitress pointed to the stand-up counter. ‘Negroes eat at that end’, she said. ‘What do you mean?’ Blair replied, with an edge of mock disbelief in his voice. ‘This is a public place, isn't it? If it isn't, then why don't you sell membership cards?’ Irritated, the waitress declared: ‘Well, you won't get any service here!’ One of Woolworths' black cleaners also told the four to go down to the ‘Negro’ section. ‘You're acting stupid, ignorant!’ she said angrily, ‘That's why we can't get anywhere today’. The four eighteen-year-olds stayed seated until the store closed for the evening. As they left, they announced that they would return with more students the next day.

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