When we created our two mini-videos on the 1960 Texas lunch counter sit-ins, we relied on a wealth of historic images and recordings from around the state. But to tell the Texas story, we also had to show where the national sit-in movement started: at a Woolworth store in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Photos of the African American students who started the sit-in at the Greensboro lunch counter are justifiably famous, but what did the building look like? What did the students see from the street as they gathered the courage to challenge the injustice of racial segregation?
Thanks to photographer Carol W. Martin, and the Martin’s Studio Collection at the Greensboro History Museum, we know. Mr. Martin took the photo below, looking north down S. Elm Street, just six months before the Greensboro Four made history with their peaceful protest.
Greensboro’s Woolworth Building shares several traits with the one in San Antonio (shown below, looking southwest on S. Alamo Street). The F. W. Woolworth Co. constructed these stores in the heart of the each city’s downtown shopping district, using prominent local architects: Adams and Adams in San Antonio in 1921, and Charles C. Hartmann in Greensboro in 1929.
Each building also represents an important first in Civil Rights history. On February 1, 1960, the Greensboro store became the launch site of a national integration movement led by young African Americans. It’s now the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. San Antonio’s Woolworth participated in the first peaceful and voluntary lunch counter integration of this movement (along with six other downtown stores) on March 16, 1960. Plans are in the works to repurpose the Woolworth Building on Alamo Plaza as part of the new Alamo Museum, which will include a free Civil Rights exhibit.