Greensboro sit-ins and segregated public facilities in North Carolina
Here, Battle remembers the 1961 sit-ins at Woolworths in Greensboro, North Carolina (Battle remembers that they took place in 1963). The Woolworths lunch counter was just a part of the segregated landscape: Battle recalls segregated theaters and public transportation. When a light-skinned black person was able to pass as white, Battle registered it as a partial victory.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Fred Battle, January 3, 2001. Interview K-0525. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
FB: Well, there wasn’t actually a training facilitiy. It was just a bunch of the football players got together. And sometimes we went down to Enson Field at UNC. And we practiced there, ran the tracks or whatever. And other times we might go over to, which is now known as Hargraves. It was a time, too, that we used to go down here to UNC, what they called the Tin Can. And at that time, they had weights and stuff, and normally not that many students in there. They’d let you go in. But occasionally they’d have a lot of students there, run you out, knowin’ that you wasn’t a student. You couldn’t produce an I.D.
RG: Well I know it’s not what part of what I’m here for, but I’m intrigued by your role in the Greensboro sit-ins, the lunch counter sit-ins at Woolworth, and I wonder if you could share some of that with me?
FB: OK, well let’s talk about the sit-ins in Chapel Hill too. I did participate in that, but we had Colonial Drugstore, the Rock Quarry, a number of other restaurants around here that we were able to desegregate. And what it caused, students, with the leadership of some adults like Hilliard Caldwell and some others, we began to demonstrate and ask the peoples for service at the lunch counter, stuff like that, and they refused. So we would boycott and picket ‘em. And people’s unique (laughs) in a sense. Because A&T, the organizer at that time had decided that you know, we were goin’ to Woolworth. I think Woolworth had been picket, targeted earlier, and they had their lunch counter sit-in with three A&T students. But it was only a year later where we emptied the university. All the students went to jail. And for a week, A&T couldn’t hold no classes, because they had no students. All the students was in jail. So they filled the jails, they had rest homes – they filled any kind of vacant building they had.
RG: How did they get into jail – by sitting in at Woolworths?
FB: Well yeah. Really you would walk up and the police officer would tell you that if you didn’t move, you were trespassing, and you refused to move, so they put you onto the bus. And they would transport you.
RG: Were you one of the organizers of the sit-ins, or were you one of the people sitting behind the counter watching?
FB: I was one of the people that – just a participant. Wasn’t an organizer of it. We were just on campus and the guy said well look here, man, I guess, a couple of the students went up to get service, and they refused them, and they arrested them. And the word got around on campus that day. So everybody (inaud).
RG: How long did it take to get service at Woolworths?
FB: I think that year, ’63, Woolworths started serving, they opened their lunch counter. But it was the same way, just like, let’s reflect back to Chapel Hill (inaud). The community set up, that’s where you had the Varsity Theater, Carolina Theater, in Chapel Hill. Then we had a Rialto Theater in Carrboro, on the main street. That was a black theater. But here again, if it left scars on me, the scars are there for me, it’s the fact that I would have to pass these theaters to go to the Rialto Theater. Or if I went to the Carolina Theater in Durham, I would have to sit up in the balcony, you know. The same thing with the bus, you know, most people that lived in Chapel Hill occasionally went to Durham to do their shopping, that big Sears and Roebuck was in Durham. And here again, you would sit on the back of the bus and go there. Same thing with the restaurants, water fountains, whatever. The theaters, you had to bypass the theaters and the school. I think it did more damage to me as to make me realize what this thing, this segregation is all about. Because I had to deal with that on a constant (?). And occasionally what we did, we got a person, black person that was real light-skinned. And to fool the system, we got him to go in the theater. And they were unable to detect the difference.
RG: In a way that was a surrogate victory?
FB: In a way it was a surrogate victory, but not the type of victory we were lookin’ for, because, we were wantin’ (?) the pigmentation of his skin, color. We wanted to have it so that everybody that wanted to go in and be able to observe a movie would have that freedom of choice. And the other thing that, I don’t know whether I had told you, I, like Ed Caldwell, was on the school board in Chapel Hill.