The Greensboro Four made it until the store closed without being arrested—a small victory, but enough to encourage them to come back the next day and the next. On the third day, they were joined by about 80 other protesters, who took turns sitting at the counter and praying and picketing outside the store. By the end of the week, there were more than 1,000 of them, including fellow classmates from A&T; students from Bennett, a historically black women’s college in Greensboro; and from the segregated black high school, Dudley High. Reporters from all over the country working for newspapers, radio, and a relatively new medium, television, converged.
But opposition also arrived: hordes of white counter-protesters who tried to take Woolworth’s stools to prevent the black students from sitting there. The white mob viciously heckled the black demonstrators, and a bomb threat was called into the store one afternoon, forcing it to close early. But footage of black students opening their books at the counter and studying peacefully in the face of violent threats had begun to make national news.
“A lunch counter sit-in is more photographically powerful than an empty bus,” says David Garrow, author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of King, “and abusive behavior by white onlookers captures the inherent nastiness of racism in clear and memorable fashion.”
The protests spread rapidly. By the end of February, sit-ins were held in at least 30 communities in eight Southern states.
“It was a movement for all people,” Khazan recalled.
Led by activist Ella Baker, a group of young grassroots organizers capitalized on the momentum of the sit-ins to form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The student-led organization, whose leaders included John Lewis (now a congressman from Georgia), drew young volunteers of all races to assist in civil rights protests and voter registration.
Back in Greensboro, the demonstrations at the Woolworth’s continued for nearly six months and grew to include other stores downtown. Finally in July 1960, after the Woolworth’s had lost $1.7 million (in today’s dollars), history was made. Harris, the manager, invited three black employees to sit and be served. The lunch counter was officially desegregated.