— Downtown African-American Heritage Trail —
Peaceful Protests for Equality
Lexington's Black Citizens Staged Lunch Counter Sit-ins Here
Peaceful sit-ins to protest segregated restaurants and lunch counters in Lexington stores began in July of 1959-nearly seven months before a more famous protest in Greensboro, NC. One of the Lexington sit-ins took place in 1960 at an S.S. Kresge store once located at the corner of Main and Mill Streets.
Staging sit-ins at specific Lexington stores
Black citizens weren't allowed to eat at the lunch counters of Woolworths and other stores. They were expected to purchase food and leave or stand at the snack bar. Members of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the NAACP staged sit-ins to protest discriminatory practices.
Demonstrating peacefully, black citizens worked to fill segregated lunch counters, using the intentional vacancy of a white sympathizer to fill with a black protester.
By taking over the seats, black citizens cost the stores money, since waitresses weren't allowed to serve them. Sometimes black protesters left
alternating seats open to encourage whites to sit next to them if they wanted to eat.
They changed Lexington in less than a year
Creative tactics and coordination with local law enforcement kept the sit-ins
relatively peaceful. As a result of the protests, most lunch counters in downtown Lexington were integrated by August of 1960.
Turning a Blind Eye to a Movement
Protests Prevailed Despite Poor Media Coverage
Through the early 1960s, local news outlets denied front-page coverage to large marches down Main Street and protests against segregation at the Phoenix Hotel, the Strand Theatre, and lunch counters such as the one at the S.S. Kresge store once located at the corner of Main and Mill Streets.
Intentionally ignoring civil rights
By refusing to highlight these peaceful demonstrations, local media intentionally downplayed the civil rights movement. In 2004, The Lexington Herald-Leader issued this front-page apology:
"It has come to the editor's attention that the Herald-Leader neglected to cover the civil rights movement. We regret the omission."
Capturing the Struggle on Film
These photos of Lexington residents working to change the city's segregated ways were taken by Calvert McCann, a high school student at the time.
Because local media rarely carried photos about the civil rights movement, McCann's images are often the only record of these events.