Restaurant Sit-ins

Airdate: September 6

This is Living Stories, featuring voices from the collections of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. I'm Kim Patterson.

In the early 1960s, many Southerners fed up with racial discrimination were participating in restaurant sit-ins, hoping to change the status quo.

Robert Cogswell of Austin, a social justice activist, recalls taking part in the movement in Houston:

"It was customary for black people who were demonstrating to have a token white among them to show that they weren't exclusivists. And I was often the token white. My activism had to do with a small group of youth in the NAACP who challenged the idea that Houston restaurants were already integrated. We spent our Saturdays driving around to restaurants and walking in and sitting down and not being served. We received a lot of responses that bordered on the absurd. A waitress would ignore us for a long time and then come to our table. In one case, the waitress said to me, "Are your friends Africans?" And it developed that if they were Africans, she was willing to serve them, but if they were American blacks, she was not.

"In another case, I went into a restaurant with a young man who was a—in a pre-medical program in the University of Houston. He was well-dressed and clean-cut-looking young man. And we sat down at a table, and there was a booth near us which contained a drunk old man who was abusing the waitress verbally, using language that neither I nor my friend would ever use, telling her in no uncertain terms that he would like to be having sex with her. And the waitress was polite to him and served him politely and refused to serve us because my friend was black."

Arthur Fred Joe was a spearhead in the integration of Waco restaurants. He explains an early sit-in on the Old Dallas Highway:

"So I sat there for three hours in this restaurant and refused. But they didn't have the volume of trade that I thought that we could march in and sit in to hurt their business. See, my angle was to hurt you in your pocketbook, and this is what the program was all about. If you couldn't hurt them in their pocketbooks, you wasn't doing no good, not far as the civil rights concerned."

Joe describes his first victorious sit-in at a restaurant on Austin Avenue, where he went during his break from work:

"Something said, ‘Don't you go home this morning for breakfast; go there.' I just drove my car up there and parked and got out and went in there. I sat there, and they kept walking by me, these little waitresses. So I took a newspaper in with me. And all—this the way we—I started my movement: you always have something to read so it wouldn't just—you just wouldn't look stupid."

Restaurant sit-ins such as these were instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended legally-sanctioned racial segregation in the United States.

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