Woolworth’s

As we celebrate another MLK Day, and prepare for a new administration that leaves us with a lot of questions and skepticism, I thought I’d share an older post. I always believed in his message of peaceful protest. I still do. And I look forward to a day when his dream is realized.

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On Martin Luther King day in 1993, I took my two children to eat lunch at the Woolworth’s counter in Charleston, South Carolina.

I thought it might be an education for them; to sit at the counter where 24 black high school students had staged a sit-in protest in 1960.

Kress

Charleston, SC 1960. Post & Courier

Theirsย was a peaceful protest.

The students never intended to eat; they joined hands in prayer and sat for 6 hours before they were arrested by local police.

My children were 7 and 9 years old, just about the age I was in 1960.

As we sat and calmly ordered our patty melts and chicken nuggets, I tried to impress on them what it might be like to be refused service, mocked and sent out of the premises just because of something as arbitrary as skin color.

I think it had an impact. It led to a very impassioned discussion.

Their world in the 1990’s was so very different from the one of my childhood.

I grew up in an industrial city in Pennsylvania which was known to be a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Slaves who escaped the South settled in my home town. They found jobs, homes, education, freedom.

I grew up with the descendants of these same folks. I never saw color, nor did many of my peers.

I cried watching the news of the barbaric, racially motivated violence in the Southย of the 1960’s ; not understanding how segregation could exist in my lifetime.

Woolworth

Woolworth’s 1993

We left South Carolinaย 2 years later.

Woolworth’s left by the end of the 1990’s.

In our very small way, this was a memorable celebration of the legacy of Martin Luther King.

I hope my children never forget it.

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81 Responses to Woolworth’s

  1. writerinsoul says:

    What a great idea to have done that. I was not really educated about slavery in childhood – I kind of remember it as sounding like really ancient history, i.e., a child’s view of powdered wigs and plantatons, and it wasn’t till I got a bit older that I realized time-wise, how very recent the Civil War had been. And of course, the idea that the Civil War had fixed everything, was far from true.

    • I was shocked at how little progress has really been made, especially in the South, where so many (a la Paula Deen) still have a romanticized view of plantation life, and resent that it was taken away from them. There is an undercurrent of bitterness toward Yankees (as we were), and a very biased opinion of any non-Caucasian….especially outside the urban areas. So many disturbing stories, no point in detailing them here. I’m not really surprised at the pent-up anger that has manifested. We have a long way to go. Thanks for your comment.

      • writerinsoul says:

        Oh, there are so many issues here, mabe more posts? I have yet to directly take on race in my blog but not because I don’t have many thoughts. Maybe it’s just too big a topic and I don’t want to tie my thoughts to one event. This is something that has mattered to me all my life. I like how you had this specific, interesting story to present some of your thoughts. (I was in college when I first heard the term “The War of Northern Aggression.” Bit of a surprise!)

  2. lbeth1950 says:

    Thank you for writing this. I visited the Woolworth’s in Greensboro and was very moved. I need to write my own journey. Thanks.

  3. Very cool. Good for you !

  4. Just Plain Ol' Vic says:

    What a great story and lesson to be learned. Kudos to you for taking the time to make a point.

  5. I love this story Van, thanks for sharing!

  6. Taking your children to Woolworth’s was such a meaningful way to teach them about this particular time in our history. It sounds like it made an impression.

  7. A powerful story to share with your kids Van. You’re a good mom. โค
    Diana xo

    • It was a great way to open the dialog. My son, even in Kindergarten, was especially protective of a poor, abused young black girl who was being ostracized by a mostly white class of kids. That spirit of inclusion is something that was instinctive. ๐Ÿ’–

  8. Erika Kind says:

    It is wonderful that you took your children there. I too cannot understand why ever differences were/are made in general but also by the skin color in particular. It makes me sad and angry at the same time. We are all human and the difference is only something that shows the uniqueness of each diamond everyone of us is.

  9. Jim says:

    wonderful post

  10. nancyruth says:

    This is a nice essay on your experience of teaching your children. Thank you for sharing. There were only three persons of color in my high school in the 70s. This was changing as I was graduating but not by much. The impact of race didn’t really hit me until I went to college in the South (Texas) where I found the students of color were on the athletic teams and the employees of color were in the service areas, kitchens and dining rooms. I had maybe two professors of color. This would include Mexican and African Americans. I have hopes that I have taught my children well.

  11. My experience was a bit different…my high school was 47% African American. I assumed that was the way of the world. Then we moved to lily-white Salt Lake City, where a Mormon friend told me the first time she saw a black man on the street as a child, she ran in terror. They had been taught that black skin was a sign of a condemned human. I think my jaw dropped. Still does sometimes. And thank you, Nancy. โค๏ธ

  12. Wow, you rock, V! What a lesson. The scene reminds me of one out of The Butler. Was powerful to see, not just read about. I went to Bryn Mawr and Univ of PA out there. Wish I had explored the history there more back then – apart from the Colonial square. Wonderful post.

  13. Nurse Kelly says:

    Thanks for sharing such a wonderful story in honor of this day. You are such an incredible mom! Love your little photo in the sidebar there as well! You look beautiful and happy! xo

  14. I can bet you that they won’t forget that.

  15. Amy says:

    What a valuable lesson for your children to learn at an early age. Love this post!

  16. Mandy says:

    Wonderful post, Van. I grew up with Woolworth’s being my go-to place. Your story is one that puts things in perspective, how I never had to worry about being denied service…Wonderful lesson for your kids.

    • I had taught a middle school history class the week before as a sub, and I was surprised at how little these kids knew about civil rights issues that we now take for granted. I wanted to make sure my kids learned about it in a memorable way, Mandy. โ˜บ

  17. And I hope no one ever forgets it. There is still way too much hate. Loved your post. Van.

  18. mitchteemley says:

    Lovely memory. Thank you for sharing it with us!

  19. TanGental says:

    Lovely story Van and as you say in a comment sadly we still need more of this.

  20. joey says:

    Oh, great post! I see this difference so clearly, the contrast between my parents’ generation and my kids’ generation. My mother especially, who grew up in The Deep South and moved here to Indiana as a senior in high school, having never gone to school with a single ‘person of color’ — her shock! Imagine a city unsegregated! My kids are friends with mostly ‘persons of color’ and always have been. It seems we are making progress, although we have so far to go.

    P.S. I have just now realized that not only are you older than me, but you don’t look a thing like I thought you would. (I’m on my PC and have encountered your photo, postage at 6 cents and a child in the 60’s made me look.) For some reason, I had you pegged as 40-ish, as well as a long and lanky fair-skinned woman, with long angelic locks of blonde hair. Isn’t that strange? So we’re clear, I’m 42, pale, have weird auburn hair, am short, and depending on the angle, I am curvy or lumpy ๐Ÿ˜‰
    I wonder what puts these things into my head?

    • Laughing here at the things we assume. I am freshly turned 64, 5 ft. 6 in., which I always thought of as short in a family of Amazons. I was always pale, freckled, dark brown hair, which I’m letting turn grey on the advice of my daughter. (young women love silver hair…go figure ? ) I have tended toward thin, with the surprise waist expansion that is required at menopause. I love your pic, and you don’t do yourself justice with that description. โ˜บ๏ธ Thanks for the smile…angelic blonde ???

      • joey says:

        Yes, isn’t that strange? I LOVE silver hair. My mother’s hair is silver and her mother’s hair was silver, and I hope mine will be too!
        Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. Great post on a very important subject. One of my favourite films is Misissippi Burning. I hope one day that everyone will be treated with dignity and respect. We have a way to go yet.

    • I thought that it had improved, when Obama was elected. Sadly, it brought out the ugliness that is still prevalent in way too many communities. Yes, we do have a way to go. ๐Ÿ’˜ Thanks, Brigid.

  22. wgr56 says:

    Excellent. Thanks!

  23. amommasview says:

    So important to teach our children about the past. And the way you did will most certainly stick to their memory. The time has changed massively and yet we still fight old demons…

  24. They will always remember

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  27. Bless you for educating your children about our shared past. I like you never saw color and in fact while in high school befriended the only black boy in an all white school. I was horrified by how he was treated so me of course who roots for the underdog got to know him. How sad it is that color means segregation and violence. I pray that changes some day and soon, Van. Much Love, โค

  28. dgkaye says:

    I got goosebumps from this heartfelt story Van. Sounds like America could use more moms like you. โค

  29. Laura says:

    What an incredible experience for your kids. Thanks for re-sharing this post!

  30. I remember reading this post and it was wonderful then and now!

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  32. Thank you Van for sharing again this post it is so important to teach our children these truths.. I hope as we go forward we all learn we are one.. The Human Race.. xxx โค

  33. Van your words have a way of touching me that I can’t quite explain. That’s such a valuable experience and piece of history that you thought your children which we should all emulate. I am so sad at the current situation of things. One would have thought that in this day and age we would know better. I keep hoping.

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