We strike, we strike, we strike” is Greensboro Roller Derby’s Counterstrike pre-bout cheer…but why do we strike? Why is our B-level travel team called Counterstrike? We strike for what we believe in, we strike for what is right, and we strike for a better world to live in.
Counterstrike was formed in 2014 and named in honor of the Woolworth’s Lunch Counter strike in Greensboro. In 1960, four brave young men stood up against segregation by taking a seat at a whites-only lunch counter. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. credits the Greensboro Four’s act of defiance reinvigorated the Civil Rights movement and gave birth to the sit-in movement nationwide. Their legacy is a reminder that we are only stronger together and we can work to make the world better with just an idea, determination, and for standing up for our beliefs.
“In Greensboro, hundreds of students, civil rights organizations, churches, and members of the community joined in a six-month-long protest,” states the National Museum of American History’s website. “Their commitment ultimately led to the desegregation of the F. W. Woolworth lunch counter on July 25, 1960. Protests such as this led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which finally outlawed racial segregation in public accommodations.”
On Feb. 1, 1960, after purchasing school supplies, four first-year students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Jibreel Khazan, Joseph McNeil, David Richmond and Franklin McCain, sat down at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Greensboro, where the official policy was to refuse service to anyone that wasn’t white.
It was a day that Khazan, (who grew up in Warnersville, a Greensboro community founded by freed slaves after the Civil War) told anyone who would listen that he would sit at the counter one day, just as he would one day taste the water coming out of the “whites only” fountains, which he at the time suspected tasted like lemonade, according to a Greensboro News & Record article by Nancy McLaughlin.
The Greensboro Four were inspired to action by the brutal 1955 lynching of Mississippi’s 14-year-old Emmett Till. They were also motivated by other advances in the Civil Rights Movement such as Brown vs. the Board of Education, the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision to desegregate schools, and the 1955–56 Montgomery Bus Boycott, where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man.
Police arrived on the scene but were unable to take action, as there was no provocation. The local media had been alerted prior to the peaceful protest and arrived in full force to cover the events. The Greensboro Four stayed seated until the store closed insisting that if the store would take their money for school supplies then they should serve them at the lunch counter. The Four returned to their seats the following day with other students from the surrounding local colleges. By Feb. 5, over 300 students had joined the protest at Woolworth’s, paralyzing other local businesses and bringing Greensboro to a halt.
The media coverage of the sit-in sparked the sit-in movement that spread quickly to college towns throughout the South and into the North. Black and white people joined together in various forms of peaceful protest against segregation in libraries, beaches, hotels and other establishments. Counter-protestors opposing racial integration flung insults and water balloons at those demonstrating against segregation. According to NCpedia.org, The Greensboro Four remained calm and could be seen sitting at a table in the Woolworth dining area reading Goethe and textbooks. As a result, physical violence did not become a part of the protest.
“As the sit-ins occurred in Greensboro, students from other North Carolina sites, including Winston-Salem, Durham, Raleigh, and Charlotte, staged similar protests,” states the website BlackPast.org. “The sit-in movement spread to Nashville, Tennessee; Atlanta, Georgia; and Richmond, Virginia, by early March.”
By the end of March the movement had spread to 55 cities in 13 states. Though many were arrested for trespassing, disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace, national media coverage of the sit-ins brought increasing attention to the civil rights movement and some businesses moved toward integration.
In response to the success of the sit-in movement, dining facilities across the South were being integrated by the summer of 1960. On July 25, 1960, when many local college students were on summer vacation, the Greensboro Woolworth’s quietly integrated its lunch counter. Four black Woolworth’s employees—Geneva Tisdale, Susie Morrison, Anetha Jones and Charles Best—were the first to be served, according to History.com. McCain, who had gone back to the suburbs of Washington during his summer break, bought a plane ticket just to be there.
Today, the Woolworth’s Lunch Counter is no more, but the space is forever immortalized by the International Civil Rights Center and Museum.
“I thank God for all of the people, young and old, black and white, across every diversity, who felt it was part of their duty to stand up and work together,” Khazan said of that day that finally came, “To make a better world for all of us to live in.”
Greensboro Counterstrike knows the strength of coming together to achieve goals, and believes in building each other up. We have come a long way since July 25, 1960, but things still can be better for people of color, and we are willing to put in the work to keep doing better. We are stronger together. We are here for each other. We are loud. We are leaders. We are athletes. We are Counterstrike! Stand Up, Sit In, Counterstrike!