See below for a fascinating and disturbing – but also inspiring – moment from 60 years ago in Arlington, Virginia, courtesy of the Arlington Historical Society. Note the appallingly racist signs, as well as the incredibly courageous civil rights activists – Gwendolyn Greene (later Britt) and Joan Trumpauer (later Mulholland), etc. Today, we’ve certainly made progress from then, but we still have a TON of work to do if we’re ever going to achieve an America that lives up to our highest ideals. And yes, sad to say – as the “Tea Party,” Trump, etc. have shown – we absolutely can go backwards in this country, not just forwards, which means we have to be eternally vigilant and active in fighting for justice and equality.
On this day in Arlington history: June 9, 1960: Three sit-ins at lunch counters in Arlington protest segregation.
Shown here among the protesters are Gwendolyn Greene (later Britt) and Joan Trumpauer (later Mulholland) sitting patiently at the People’s Drug counter on the 4700 block of Lee Highway in Arlington, Virginia during a sit-in protest June 9, 1960. The workers behind the counter served white customers then walked out when demonstrators sat down, only returning when the management closed the counter (note sign).
They were taunted by members of the Nazi party (note swastikas on their shirts) and later by some young white toughs.
The protestors were part of the Non-Violent Action Group (NAG), an integrated group mainly composed of students that was led by Howard University divinity student Laurence Henry. The sit-in demonstrations at People’s Drug Store, Drug Fair, Landsburgh’s Woolworths and the Howard Johnson’s in Arlington were successful within a matter of weeks and most restaurants and lunch counters in the city desegregated in 1960.
The group moved on to Maryland the same year where they staged ultimately successful demonstrations to desegregate Glen Echo Amusement Park, the Hi-Boy restaurant in Rockville and the Hiser Theater in Bethesda.
Greene was part of a group with four others arrested on the carousel at Glen Echo in a case that ultimately went to the Supreme Court. The Court ruled in the protestors favor and overturned the arrests because the park had used deputy sheriffs to enforce its Jim Crow segregation policy. Greene went on to become a state senator in Maryland, Gwendolyn (Greene) Britt. Trumpauer went on to protest deeper in the South. (see her oral history interview for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHXYznTy6UM)
These may have been among the most peaceful of the sit-ins that occurred throughout the South to highlight the injustice of not being able to eat together. No dogs were set on them and they were not beaten and dragged away as in other places. But they didn’t know that wouldn’t happen when they say down. Their courage and determination were powerful.
(Photos by Paul Schmick. Courtesy of the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.)