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In sit-ins, protesters usually seat themselves at some strategic location (inside a restaurant, in a street to block it, in a government or corporate office, and so on). They remain until they are evicted, usually by force, or arrested, or until their requests have been met. Sit-ins have historically been a highly successful form of protest because they cause disruption that draws attention to the protest and by proxy the protesters' cause. They are a non-violent way to effectually shut down an area or business. The forced removal of protesters, and sometimes the use of violence against them, often arouses sympathy from the public, increasing the chances of the demonstrators reaching their goal.
A sit-in is similar to a sit-down strike. However, whereas a sit-in involves protesters, a sit-down strike involves striking workers occupying the area in which they would be working and refusing to leave so they can not be replaced with scabs. The sit-down strike was the precursor to the sit-in.
Sit-ins were first widely employed by Mohandas Gandhi in South African strikes and later the Indian independence movement, and were later expanded on by Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and others during the American Civil Rights Movement. In the 1960s, students used this method of protest during the student movements, such as the protests in Germany. The Young Lords in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood used it successfully for a whole week to win community demands for low income housing investment at the Mckormick Theological Seminary.
Although never used to block public streets, sit-ins were an integral part of the non-violent strategy of civil disobedience and mass protests that eventually led to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which ended legally-sanctioned racial segregation in the United States. The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) conducted sit-ins as early as the 1940s. Ernest Calloway refers to Bernice Fisher as "Godmother of the restaurant 'sit-in' technique." In August, 1939, African-American attorney Samuel Wilbert Tucker organized a sit-in at the then-segregated Alexandria, Virginia library. Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) labor delegates had a brief, spontaneous lunch counter sit-in during their 1947 Columbus, Ohio convention..
In one of the earliest racially-connected sit-ins, followers of Father Divine and the International Peace Mission Movement joined with the Cafeteria Workers Union, Local 302, in September 1939 to protest racially unfair hiring practices at New York's Shack Sandwich Shops, Inc. According to the New York Times, Sep 23, 1939, "â€Ž"On Thursday between 75 and 100 followers showed up at the restaurant at Forty-first Street and Lexington Avenue, where most of the strike activity has been concentrated, and groups went into the place, purchased five-cent cups of coffee, and conducted what might be described as a kind of customers' nickel sit down strike. Other patrons were unable to find seats."
With the encouragement of Melvin B. Tolson and James L. Farmer, students from Wiley and Bishop Colleges organized the first sit-ins in Texas in the rotunda of the Harrison County Courthouse in Marshall, Texas. This sit-in directly challenged the oldest White Citizens Party in Texas and would culminate in the reversal of Jim Crow laws in the state and the desegregation of postgraduate studies in Texas by the Sweatt v. Painter (1950) verdict.
The first organized lunch-counter sit-in for the purpose of integrating segregated establishments began in July 1958 in Wichita, Kansas at Dockum Drugs, a store in the old Rexall chain. In early August the drugstore became integrated. A few weeks later on August 19, 1958 in Oklahoma City a nationally recognized sit-in at the Katz Drug Store lunch counter occurred. The Oklahoma City Sit-in Movement was led by NAACP Youth Council leader Clara Luper, a local high school teacher, and young local students, including Luper's eight-year old daughter, who suggested the Sit-in be held. The group quickly desegregated the Katz Drug Store lunch counters. It took several more years, but she and the students, using the tactic, integrated all of Oklahoma City's eating establishments. Today, in downtown Wichita, Kansas, stands a statue depicting a waitress at a counter serving people honors this pioneering sit-in.
Following the Oklahoma City sit-ins, the tactic of non-violent student sit-ins spread. The Greensboro Sit-In at a Woolworth's in Greensboro, North Carolina, on February 1, 1960 launched a wave of anti-segregation sit-ins across the South and opened a national awareness of the depth of segregation in the nation. Within weeks, sit-in campaigns had begun in nearly a dozen cities, primarily targeting Woolworth's and S. H. Kress and other stores of other national chains.
The largest, and best organized of these sit-in campaigns was the already ongoing, in terms of its planning and groundwork, Nashville sit-ins. They involved hundreds of participants, and led to the successful desegregation of Nashville lunch counters. Most of the participants in the Nashville sit-ins were college students, and many, such as Diane Nash, James Bevel, Bernard Lafayette, and C.T. Vivian, went on to lead, strategize, and direct almost every aspect of the nation's Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. The students of the Historically black colleges and universities in the city played a critical role in implementing the Nashville sit-ins.
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