Woolworth's variety store was the scene of a pivotal event in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement on May 28, 1963. When three black Tougaloo College students sat down at the white lunch counter seeking service, the nonviolent protesters were attacked by an angry mob. Media and FBI were present; police refused to enter. An integrated group of supporters joined the students. The crowd threw store goods and dumped food seasonings on them. The three-hour siege ended when management closed the store.
Woolworth's Sit-in In Spring 1963, tensions ran high in Jackson between opponents and supporters of racial segregation. Black leaders walked out of a meeting with Mayor Allen Thompson when he refused most of their demands. The next day, May 28, demonstrations began as promised. NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers and Jackson Movement strategist John Salter, a Tougaloo College professor, had planned two nonviolent protests—picketing on Capitol Street and a sit-in at Woolworth's.
At 11:15 a.m., three black youths—Pearlena Lewis, NAACP North Jackson Youth Council president, and Tougaloo student activists Annie Moody and Memphis Norman—sat down at the whites-only Woolworth's lunch counter. Press and police soon arrived, but police stayed outside because the U.S.
Supreme Court had declared sit-ins legal. At Lamar and Capitol streets at 11:30 a.m., five picketers were arrested. Tougaloo student Joan Trumpauer and teaching assistant Lois Chaffee, picket "spotters," headed to Woolworth's where a crowd of Central High students, businessmen, FBI agents, an undercover policeman, and local toughs had gathered. The growing mob began shouting racial epithets; a man knocked Norman off his stool and repeatedly kicked him. Finally the policeman arrested the assailant and the bloodied Norman. Lewis and Moody were pulled off but regained their seats. Trumpauer sat down with Lewis and Moody. Irate hecklers doused them with mustard, salt, pepper, and sugar, enraged because Trumpauer was white. She was yanked off her seat and dragged outside. Police arrested her attacker but allowed Trumpauer to reenter. She and Chaffee joined Lewis and Moody; all were assaulted with ketchup and spray paint.
Tougaloo chaplain Ed King, a "spotter," called the NAACP office to report the violence. Evers remained at the command post as Salter left to help with NAACP staffer Mercedes Wright and former Jackson State student body president Walter Williams, who had been expelled for activism. Salter suffered brass knuckle blows, cuts from broken glass, and cigarette burns. Williams was knocked unconscious. Wright tried to protect Lewis. King called Tougaloo president
A.D. Beittel, who hurried to the scene. Shortly before the ordeal's end, CORE staffer George Raymond and Jim Hill High senior Tom Beard joined the sit-in. At 2 p.m., Woolworth's regional manager closed the store—three hours after the demonstration began. That evening a firebomb was hurled at Medgar Evers's home. Two weeks later Evers was assassinated.
Pearlena Lewis, Memphis Norman, and Annie Moody sit peacefully at the lunch counter. Waitresses closed the counter because they refused to move to the "colored" section.
Benny Oliver, former Jackson policeman, viciously kicks Tougaloo College student Memphis Norman after he was knocked from his seat to the floor. Norman and his attacker were both arrested by an undercover policeman inside the store.
Deputy Police Chief J.L. Ray arrests NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers, who was picketing outside the Woolworth's store three days after the violence. A reporter records the action.
At left, Tougaloo chaplain Rev. Ed King comes to the aid of john Salter after the store was closed. King was a "spotter"—a lookout who reported action to Medgar Evers by phone—during the sit-in.
John Salter, Joan Trumpauer, and Annie Moody remain at the lunch counter and endure the assaults. This iconic photograph by Fred Blackwell, a young photographer at the
Jackson Daily News, is included in history books world-wide. It is also featured on the cover and provides a theme for M.J. O'Brien's We Shall Not Be Moved, published by the University Press of Mississippi in 2013.
Shown talking with Tougaloo president A.D. Beittel (left) outside Woolworth's after management closed it are, from left, George Raymond, Annie Moody, Pearlena Lewis, John Slater, and Tom Beard. Deputy Chief J. L. Ray is at right.
This scene of Jackson's Capitol Street from the late 1950s shows the view looking east, appearing much the same as it did during the events that took place here in 1963.