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August 11, 1958: Congress of Racial Equality Launches Sit-In Movement at Charleston Lunch Counters

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On August 11, 1958, the Congress of Racial Equality—or CORE—launched a sit-in movement at several Charleston lunch counters. Prior to this time, African-Americans in Charleston could order takeout food at many white-owned diners but were not allowed to sit down and eat.

The Charleston protests occurred four years after the U.S. Supreme Court ended segregation in public schools through its landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. While the Brown decision integrated public schools, it was left up to civil rights activists to break the color barrier at privately owned businesses.

In 1958, the newly formed CORE chapter targeted three Charleston eateries. Protesters organized sit-ins at the Woolworth, Kresge, and Newberry five-and-ten-cent stores. Faced with a backlash of bad publicity and boycotts, the three stores soon changed their policies and began allowing African-Americans to eat in their establishments. These successful sit-ins occurred a year and a half before the more famous civil rights sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, in early 1960.

While the CORE sit-ins started a trend toward integration, many businesses in Charleston and other West Virginia cities remained segregated through the 1960s.

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