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On February 1, 1960, four young black college students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, guided by the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, conducted a peaceful sit-in at a Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. They protested the general store’s use of a segregated lunch counter by taking their seats and politely asking for coffee and other services. They became known as the Greensboro Four. In the days that followed, students from nearby Bennett College for Women joined them. The students organized themselves in shifts, taking up seats at the counter, where they tried to study while others shouted words of encouragement or, more often, hate. No media was present on that first day but as news spread as the sit-in continued, it sparked more peaceful sit-ins across the state and the nation.
As college students returned home for summer, students from nearby Dudley High School took over the sit-in shifts. The students’ peaceful demonstrations lasted until July 25, 1960, when the Woolworth’s counter became integrated after the store suffered major economic losses due to the sit-in. The International Civil Rights Center and Museum both keeps alive the memory of that sit-in and advances the fight to continue to break down barriers. Most importantly, it reminds us that young people are instrumental in the process of making a change.
What to expect
With a mission to preserve and advance, the Center serves as an archival, museum and teaching facility dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement and the pursuit of equality. The entire facility what was the Greensboro Woolworth store as it was at the beginning of the 20th century.
The permanent exhibits, organized by theme instead of chronology, are experienced through a continuously-led guided tour. As you join the tour, you continue on the loop until you reach the point where you joined. You’ll interact with the exhibits and have a led discussion that you could not have on your own without the guide.
The original Woolworth counter is certainly the main attraction. While you can no longer sit on the original stools for the sake of preservation, other memorabilia and exhibits show what it was like to live in the Jim Crow era South. A Green Book, a publication listing businesses where minorities could safely visit and recently featured in a movie of the same title, is on permanent display. The Hall of Shame features photographs of what was going on at the time. Parents of younger children will want to consider whether some of the photographs here, which have been blown up for a fuller effect, are appropriate for their kids.
At the end of my tour, I looked down at my watch and realized that nearly two hours had gone by. I can’t remember the last time that two hours went by so quickly, which is a testament to both how captivating the tour guides are and to how they pack so much information during the tour. True to online reviews, our tour guides Gabrielle and Sage were informative and truly passionate about the museum and the Movement. The museum highlights both the Civil Rights Movement within North Carolina and puts it in the context of other civil rights activities nationwide.
I’m honestly surprised that neither of my children’s schools planned a school trip here considering the distance and convenience: one hours’ travel on a major highway connecting them. I’m disappointed that this wasn’t a part of their curriculum. But conversations about race are always difficult, which is why this museum is such an important way to open the door to such discussions.
And Still I Rise! A tribute to artists and athletes who broke barriers and advanced the rights of others in an inspirational way. This movie is scheduled for special showings on Martin Luther King day at 12pm and 3pm.
Check the International Civil Rights Center & Museum website for up-to-date events.
Saturday Children’s Story Hour – 11am. Geared to children aged 5 to 12, a story is read by a volunteer followed by a led discussion. The story hour is free to all visitors and is part of the community outreach program.
Located at 134 South Elm Street in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, the combined center and museum is easy to find. You can’t miss the iconic Woolworth sign. Parking can be found on the street using metered parking or in the three nearby parking decks located at Greene Street (211 S. Greene Street), David Street (109 E. Market Street), or Elm-McGee (336 S. Elm Street). Each is within a two block distance. If you visit on Saturday, street parking is plentiful and the meters are free.
Know before you go
The museum is open Monday to Saturday, 10am to 6pm. The last guided tour begins at 4:30pm.
Museum admission falls into three price categories:
- Adults $12
- Students (13 through college ) and Seniors (65 & older) $10
- Youth (6-12) $8
- Children 5 and under are FREE
Please note that photos may not be taken inside the museum.
As the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday approaches on January 21st and continuing through February, Black History month, the International Civil Rights Center and Museum should be added to your list of must-see places.
Check out our other North Carolina blogs about great places to see like the Carolina Tiger Rescue or spending a Weekend Getaway in Concord, North Carolina.
Annick, The Common Traveler