Throughout the 1940s, St. Louis activists led sit-ins to protest the denial of service Black residents faced in restaurants, cafeterias, and lunch counters. The first demonstration occurred on May 15, 1944, when a group of Black and white women walked into a Stix, Baer, & Fuller department store and sat at the lunch counter. The store refused service, prompting members of the Citizens’ Civil Rights Committee to attempt sit-ins at other department stores. The activists found minor success at Scruggs-Vandervoort-Barney, when the store allowed Black customers to sit at the counter, but refused to seat them in the upstairs dining room. In 1948, the newly-formed Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) resumed sit-in demonstrations at Stix, an effort that lasted eighteen months without results.
This Woolworth’s sign from 1954, represents the changing strategy of sit-in protests in St. Louis. Having found limited success with department stores, CORE chose to move some of their sit-ins to dime stores like Woolworth’s. Unlike its Stix campaign, some Woolworth’s sit-ins were incredibly successful. In 1953, CORE member Irene Williams participated in a solitary sit-in at the Woolworth’s on Grand and Olive near Route 66. Williams recalled sitting at the lunch counter for two months before she was finally allowed to order food. Shortly after her sit-in campaign, the manager opened the entire store to Black customers. These department and dime store sit-in protests paved the way for national sit-ins and demonstrations, like the 1960 Woolworth’s sit-ins in Greensboro.
Contributing Institution: Missouri Historical Society
Accession Number: 1993-226-0008
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Region: St. Louis Metro