March 16, 1960: a day to remember in 2020

Safety precautions for the COVID-19 virus prevented the Coalition for the Woolworth Building from hosting a commemorative event in Alamo Plaza.  However, the civil rights anniversary did not go unrecognized.  Stalwart coalition members Nettie Hinton and Maria Greene, who also belong to the NAACP, bore public witness to the historic lunch counter integration outside the Woolworth Building.  See “San Antonio’s lunch counters integrated 60 years ago” by Scott Huddleston in the San Antonio Express-News.

Before social distancing and self-quarantine became the norm, coalition members gathered at Bexar County Commissioners Court for a ceremonial proclamation.

Group portrait of Coalition for the Woolworth Building members with Bexar County Commissioners.
Coalition for the Woolworth Building members receive a proclamation recognizing the 60th anniversary of local lunch counter integration from Bexar County Commissioners. Click photo to read it.

On March 10th, Commissioner Tommy Calvert presented a proclamation recognizing the 60th Anniversary of San Antonio’s lunch counter integration on Monday, March 16, 2020. Both he and Judge Wolff reiterated the County’s support for preserving the landmark Woolworth Building as a tangible link to this Civil Rights milestone, which also took place in several other stores along Alamo Plaza and E. Houston Street.  Mrs. Aaronetta Pierce thanked the commissioners on behalf of the coalition. Watch the video (presentation of the proclamation starts at 7:32).

The Coalition for the Woolworth Building consists of The Conservation Society of San Antonio, San Antonio Branch NAACP, San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum, Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, Westside Preservation Alliance, National Institute of Mexican American History of Civil Rights, San Antonio for Growth on the East Side, and other interested individuals.

Color Portrait of Mary Lillian Andrews
Mary Lillian Andrews

On March 16, 1960, seven downtown stores, including Woolworth’s on Alamo Plaza, peacefully and voluntarily integrated their lunch counters.  No sit-in demonstrations took place at the San Antonio stores, thanks to the cooperation of religious leaders and store managers, who orchestrated the policy change behind the scenes just before the NAACP’s protest deadline. This event marked a first for the national sit-in movement, which was led by African American students protesting racial discrimination.

“The Woolworth Building represents a unique site in the Civil Rights movement,” said Patti Zaiontz, president of The Conservation Society of San Antonio. “The Woolworth is a symbol of freedoms won beyond the battlefield. The desegregation brought positive change for all races and paved the way for additional civil rights progress for Hispanics. Saving the building, along with the (Alamo) shrine, adds greatly to the story of the long struggle for freedom and justice.”  The Woolworth Building, which appears to be endangered by the 2018 Alamo Plan, has been named to the World Monuments 2020 Watch List.  View our Call to Action.

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