Saturday, July 18, 2009


I had to post this bit of history on this important day. Taken right from my source for Peace History:

Forgotten History...until now:

In Wichita, Kansas, near the corner of Broadway and Douglas, there is a small plaza tucked in between two buildings. On one wall of the plaza is a sculpture of a lunch counter with several people sitting at it. It's so very life-like that in nice weather people routinely sit down on the empty stools to eat their lunches at the counter.

On July 19, 1958, several black teenagers, members of the local NAACP chapter, entered the downtown Dockum Drug Store (then the largest drug store chain in the state) and sat down at the lunch counter. They were ignored. They kept coming back and sitting at the counter, from before lunch through the dinner hour, at least twice a week for the next several weeks. They sat quietly, creating no disturbance, but refusing to leave without being served.

The store tried to wait them out by ignoring them. They kept coming back and sitting there, silently, day after day, waiting to be served. On one occasion three police officers tried to coerce and intimidate the teenagers to leave, and succeeded. But they came back, and the police did not return. They were breaking no law, only a store policy, and the store was not willing to challenge them directly.

A group of local white bullies came by trying to intimidate them. The police were called to break it up but left immediately without challenging the whites, saying they had instructions to keep their hands off. After an emergency phone call a group of local black men arrived,ready to defend the protesters. The white youths retreated, leaving the store.

And the young people kept coming back and sitting there at the lunch counter, silently, day after day, waiting to be served.

They asked for help and support from the national NAACP, but the national organization refused to endorse or even acknowledge their actions. The confrontational tactic was against NAACP policy. The national newswires picked it up and the story went out on the national wire, but few papers ran it and it quickly vanished.

On August 11, while the early arrivals were sitting at the counter waiting for their friends to show, a white man around 40 walked in and looked at them for several minutes. Then he looked at the store manager, and said, simply, "Serve them. I'm losing too much money." He then walked back out. That man was the owner of the Dockum drug store chain.

That day the lawyer for the local NAACP branch called the store's state offices, and was told by the chain vice-president that "he had instructed all of his managers, clerks & employees, to serve all people without regard to race, creed or color." State-wide. They had won, completely. Their actions inspired others, and the sit-in movement spread to Oklahoma City. By the middle of 1959, the national NAACP was losing disaffected members for refusing to endorse the scattered but spreading sit-in protests, gave in, and sponsored the Greensboro sit-ins.

Nineteen months before the Greensboro sit-ins that have been credited with being the start of the civil rights sit-in movement, it really began at a downtown drug store in Wichita, Kansas. The Dockum sit-ins were largely ignored by the NAACP in their archives, probably out of embarrassment, and were unknown even to many civil rights historians. That error was corrected by the NAACP this summer.

Something important started there in Wichita near the corner of Broadway and Douglas. Those who started it were almost forgotten by history.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Mike. I didn't know about this bit of history.

Anonymous said...

Mike- you ought to be a historian- looking forward to reading your comments about July 20, 1969.

take care