THE SOUTH: Complicated Hospitality

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The egalitarian revolution in the South sometimes moves like a spring flood, seeping over and around the barriers, running ahead of the sluggish channels dredged by the law. One afternoon last fortnight, such a spring freshet bubbled up in the textile city of Greensboro, N.C. (pop. 125,000) when four young college students—freshmen from the Negro Agricultural and Technical College—walked into the F.W. Woolworth store on South Elm Street and quietly sat down at the lunch counter. The white patrons eyed them warily, and the white waitresses ignored their studiously polite requests for service. The students continued to sit until closing time. Next morning they reappeared, reinforced by 25 fellow students. By last week their unique sitdown had spread through 14 cities in five Southern states in a far-ranging attack on the Jim Crow custom that Negroes may be served while standing at downtown lunch counters but may not be served if they sit down.

Unscrewed Seats. In Northern executive suites, the directors of chain stores wrung their hands in anguish, decided to do nothing. (Negroes account for at least one-fourth of all business transacted in the 300 Southern branches of Woolworth's alone.) Local managers solved the problems in different ways: in Charlotte, the proprietor of the local McLellan Store unscrewed the seats from the lunch counter. Some Kress, Walgreen and Liggett stores roped off the seats so that everybody had to stand, or closed the lunch counters altogether.

Inevitably, the sitdowns washed up some familiar flotsam: the duck-tailed, sideburned swaggerers, the rednecked hatemongers, the Ku Klux Klan. Stores in Durham, Greensboro and Rock Hill, S.C. were closed after getting anonymous telephoned bomb threats. Just as inevitably, the national pressure groups arrived on the scene and helped organize the sitdowns in other Southern cities. Five days after the Greensboro sitdown began, a representative of the Congress of Racial Equality turned up in Greensboro and Durham, announced that CORE was taking over, and advised the sitters to concentrate on just one chain—Woolworth's.

But the student leaders protested that the spontaneous demonstrations were "entirely local," denied any connection with national groups.

Orderly Solution. With the arrest of 43 young Negroes for trespassing on a privately owned sidewalk in front of a Raleigh five-and-dime, the short-order demonstrations seemed headed toward an orderly solution in the courts. But the resolute young Negroes were prepared to sit it out until a solution was reached—and there was only one reasonable solution. Said the Raleigh News and Observer: "In effect, he [the Negro] was cordially invited to the house but definitely not to the table. And to say the least, this was complicated hospitality. You can't have your chocolate cake and eat it, too."