‘By sitting down, these students stood up for equality.’

Current students from Wake Forest University and Winston-Salem State University during a sit-in vigil honoring the 60th annivesary of the local sit-in movement started by students from the two universities.

‘By sitting down, these students stood up for equality.’
February 27
03:40 2020

In recognition of the 60th anniversary of the first sit-in victory in the state, last weekend hundreds gathered in downtown Winston-Salem to remember the 21 college students who made history. 

Less than a month after students from NC A&T State University staged their historic sit-in at a Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, on Feb. 23, 1960, 11 students from Winston-Salem Teacher’s College (now Winston-Salem State University) and 10 students from Wake Forest College (now Wake Forest University) staged their own sit-in at a local lunch counter downtown. Although the students were eventually arrested and charged with trespassing, three months later the courage of those students led to the desegregation of all lunch counters in the city. 

On the day of the vigil, current students from both universities came together just as they did 60 years ago. When discussing the historic moment, WFU president Nathan Hatch said the same courage those students had in 1960 still resonates throughout the community today. Hatch said, “The world we know today is better because of the people who came before us, particularly these brave students. 

“By sitting down, these students stood up for equality. By banding together, they broke clutches of injustice, and by taking action, they changed the course of the community. May that courage be what inspires us and continue to work towards bettering this city and community for all.”

Before presenting a proclamation to Victor Johnson, the only living student from either school who started the sit-in movement, WSSU Chancellor Elwood Robinson also shared his thoughts. Robinson, who grew up in a small rural North Carolina town, said he still remembers the sting of segregation and those who were willing to take a stand against injustice. Robinson said the courage those students and others throughout history have shown is what motivates him to keep the fight alive. 

“It’s deeply rooted in our memories, the pain associated with segregation,” Robinson continued. “I still remember deep in my soul and it motivates me every day.”

After the proclamation was read, guest speaker Jonathan L. Walton, dean of WFU’s Divinity School, delivered the keynote address. Following Walton’s address, students from two universities and others in attendance marched from the Millennium Center, located at the corner of Trade and Fifth Streets, to the corner of Fourth and Liberty Street, where the historic marker honoring the sit-in victory is located. 

Once the crowd of about 200 arrived at the marker, the names of the 21 students were called and current students from the two universities sat down in chairs meant to represent the peaceful protestors who changed the city of Winston-Salem forever. The crowd erupted in applause when Victor Johnson’s name was called and he joined the students. 

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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