Historical marker to commemorate 1960 Kress store sit-in

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A historical marker to commemorate a protest against segregation by Burke High School students in the spring of 1960 will be placed on King Street this weekend.

Kress store lunch counter was the site of a peaceful sit-in by two dozen Burke High School students who championed for desegregation on April 1, 1960.

Minerva King recalls they had practiced and prepared prior to the sit-in.

"We chose a day there was no school because it was a teacher's work day," King said. "We weren't going to cut hookey, and we dressed up in our Sunday best."

The students first went to the Woolworth counter, but found out that counter was closed. So they moved a block north to Kress.

At Kress, King says they walked in a single file to the back of the store and sat down.

Kress served customers of all races in 1960, but blacks were barred from the lunch counter.

"So this is our way of protesting that practice," said King. "The thought being if our money was good enough to spend in the store, we certainly should have the privilege of eating at the lunch counter. Getting a cheeseburger or coke."

Dr. Jon Hale of the College of Charleston says lunch counter sit-ins had begun with college students two months earlier in Greensboro, but Charleston colleges did not admit black students. Despite the risk of arrest, the Burke students sat for five and a half hours and prayed.

"Inspirational," says Dr. Hale. "High school students leading the fight for desegregation."

The Kress was very significant to Charleston history because it was the first non-violent direct action campaign, initiating the local civil rights movement here in Charleston.

Bomb threats and ammonia poured on the counter were used to get the students to leave, and Kress workers removed the other stools at the counter so no one else would join them.

The students sat tight until some were arrested by the Charleston police chief.

A gym now fills the back of the building where the lunch counter once stood. When the building reopens soon, a big chain clothing store will fill much of what was once the five and dime.

The historical marker will be placed Sunday.

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