May 3, 1960: Charleston’s Diamond Department Store Integrates Its Lunch Counters

May 3, 2019

Credit e-WV Encyclopedia

On May 3, 1960, Charleston’s Diamond Department Store integrated its lunch counters. The Diamond was the largest department store of its kind in Charleston and one of the leading stores in the state. For years, it barred African-Americans from eating at its popular lunch counter.

A year-and-a-half earlier, the Congress of Racial Equality, known as CORE, had successfully integrated other lunch counters in Charleston by holding sit-ins at downtown five-and-dime stores, including Woolworth, Kresge, and Newberry. But The Diamond refused to relent.

Local CORE leaders Elizabeth Gilmore and Cynthia Burks continued a series of sit-ins and boycotts at The Diamond. Ironically, the store’s leading salesperson at the time was a black Charleston woman named Frances Hale.

Finally, The Diamond announced its plans to integrate in May 1960. The news was overshadowed by the Democratic presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey, which was being held in town the next day.

The Charleston protests were part of a statewide Civil Rights Movement. While the effort was overwhelmingly successful, some restaurants across the state, including the White Pantry and Bailey’s Cafeteria in Huntington, didn’t integrate until years later.