Civil rights movement hits 'Richmond Room' at Thalhimer's

By Curt Autry - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - February 1, 1960 -- four college students sit down at the lunch counter at a Greensboro, N.C., department store -- and within days ignite a struggle. A student led, civil right's movement that would sweep the south.

"Maybe four days after Greensboro, some student leaders met -- Rev. Frank Pinkston, Rev. Charles Sheraud," said Dr. Raymond Pierre Hylton, a professor at Virginia Union University.

On the VUU campus, a plan was forming among a group of students -- who would become known as "The Richmond 34."

Their plan was simple. A trip to Richmond's most trendy shopping spot of the era -- Thalhimer's Department store. A place where African-Americans could shop, but not get service at the restauant.  A sit-in, days earlier, at several other area lunch counters, produced no arrests. It was only when they moved to the more upscale "Richmond Room" at Thalhimer's that police were called.

"The plan was actually to force an arrest, so they could challenge it in the courts, get it publicized, and ignite what they did ignite: a massive boycott. Call the campaign for human dignity," Hylton said.

Back on the VUU campus, university President Dr. Samuel Proctor expressed shock by the student's action -- but we now know he was it on it from the beginning.

Proctor, a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, was active in the civil rights movement -- but for the good of the college, held his tongue.

"He knew about it, I suppose it was a 'don't ask, don't tell' type of thing," Hylton said. "There was a consideration of a lot of donors maybe withdrawing their funds if the administration came out, Virginia being what it was, at the time."

By Christmas of 1960, almost all Richmond merchants had felt the economic sting of the boycott, sparked by the campaign for human dignity, and reluctantly gave in.  In the proud Capitol of the Confederacy -- mere students, some just teenagers, had accomplished in days -- what generations could not.

"If integration could somehow be pulled off in Richmond -- that would send repercussions throughout the south," Hylton said.

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