Charleston group arrested at whites-only lunch counter honored Sunday

A group of black youths refuse to leave a whites-only lunch counter in Charleston in 1960. (Source: Charleston Preservation Society)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - The Preservation Society of Charleston unveiled an historical marker outside what was once the five and dime store, S.H. Kress, Sunday at the corner of King and Wentworth streets.{}

On April 1, 1960, several black Burke High School students sat down at a whites-only lunch counter inside the store and were refused service, then arrested.

Rev. Joe Darby with the Charleston NAACP says the unveiling of the historical marker is important for several reasons.

"The first is that it adds to a true and more diverse picture of Charleston's history," said Darby.

Darby says tourists come from all over the nation to visit Charleston. He says some tourists and residents may be interested in visiting attractions such as the marker and not just the usual tours to see the H.L. Hunley.

Darby says what also interesting to him is where this recognition is coming from - The Preservation Society.

"The Preservation Society, which has been less than interested in our diverse history, is sponsoring the recognition. That gives hope for a broader discussion of Charleston's diverse history that could bring a broader circle of participants to the table," he said.

According to the preservation society's website, the installation of the historic marker is a part of the Society's 2011 Seven to Save, a listing of Civil Rights era sites around Charleston.

Rev. Thomas Dixon of The Coalition, a local civil rights organization, looks forward to seeing more effort from the preservation society.

"Many events of the Civil Rights era of 50 years ago are no more than a distant memory to Americans today. And these events, as well as the locations at which they occurred, are largely forgotten because they were swept under the rug by white Southern society," said Dixon.

Dixon and Darby both want this unveiling to provoke and continue discussions about race issues in Charleston.{}

"For the Preservation Society to acknowledge this event in which high-school-aged Southern blacks defied the long-standing Jim Crow laws that legalized segregation throughout the South, laws that had oppressed their fathers and their father's fathers for years, their acknowledgement of and dedication of this site for all to see is just as monumental an event as the bold action of these young students 53 years ago. It's just another real-time sign that 'the times they are a-changing,'" said Dixon.

Two of the Burke High school students who participated in the lunch counter sit-in, Minerva Brown King and Cecelia Gordon Rogers, are expected to attend the ceremony.

The unveiling began at 3 p.m. Sunday. The event was free and open to the public.