Terri Richardson

<a href= "mailto:trichardson@marshallnewsmessenger.com">trichardson@marshallnewsmessenger.com</a>

Students from Marshall's historically black colleges staged sit-in demonstrations against the status quo and the institution of segregation in late April 1960.

Their movement was non-violent and part of nation-wide dramatization by young people to gain attention and urge an end to discrimination.

"The demonstrations by the Wiley College students and Bishop College students were significant, on the largest scale for the state of Texas," said Milton Williams III of Marshall, a high school sophomore at that time. "It was happening all across the South and involved changing Jim Crow-type laws. The inspiration in itself was to eliminate these laws."

The first sit-in was staged Saturday, March 26, 1960, as three attempts to obtain service were made, according to The Marshall News Messenger.

"At 10 a.m. Saturday, 13 students, variously described as all strangers and as students at Wiley and Bishop College, entered the F.W. Woolworth store on the square and took seats at the lunch counter," according to the report.

Students were reportedly from out of town, and returned once the store reopened but were informed  the counter was still closed. Other stores included the Union Bus Terminal Cafe.

"While the first attempt to obtain service at Woolworth's was being made, about 100 students of Wiley College met on the campus near the bell tower and held a session of prayers and singing, mostly patriotic and religious songs," according to the report.

Students that Saturday left quietly  after being refused service. Later reports noted they were lectured by the District Attorney Charles Allen.

"All throughout, it was taking place as a social revolution, a non-violent social revolution," said Williams. "They had dogs released on them, fire hoses turned on them. It was not as bad here as other places, but that's not the sort of thing you would expect for a peaceful demonstration."

Demonstrations did grow more violent as a reaction to student sit-ins and at least 57 students were arrested.

The first 20 were arrested on Wednesday, March 30, 1960. Ten of the arrested students were noted to be women, 10 from Wiley College and 10 from Bishop College. They were arrested while trying to obtain service about 12:35 p.m. from "W.F. Woolworth Co., Fry-Hodge Drug and Union Bus Station all at almost exactly the same time."

Students were again told the lunch counters were closed and that they were interfering with regular business. Police had no trouble moving them from the businesses once asked to leave by managers, according to the report.

"It was a brave act to break the law," said Williams. "The individuals who participated were subject to be arrested, and they were arrested."

There were 37 more students arrested on the same day on the courthouse square as officials "attempted to prevent violence in connection with the mass demonstrations."

Their method: fire hoses.

"Wednesday afternoon, firemen used fire hoses to move back students who were demonstrating on the courthouse square. The fire hoses were put into action after students refused to leave the square during a demonstration in which 37 more were charged and another 150 to 175 were held briefly," according to the report.

"The organizers would not let high school kids participate in sit-ins for their safety, but I did attend demonstrations and almost got arrested," said Williams. "I was going to be arrested, but it just so happened my dad was standing next to me and grabbed me away from the sheriff."

Students were processed at the jail and received "county court charges of unlawful assembly to deprive a man of the right to do business." Corresponding court coverage noted "the law was passed in 1949 as an ordinance regulating the operation of peddlers and other salesmen in the city, but one clause makes it against the ordinance to remain on the premises of another person after being ordered to leave."

Thirty of the students faced dual, city and county, charges as those not specifically asked to leave lunch counters only faced city charges, according to reports.

Rallies continued that Thursday as student leaders planned full-scale boycotts on Marshall businesses and continued sit-ins.

"We will face quite a bit of danger in our efforts, but our movement is really moving, and we have what we need," said an unidentified student leader.

"We must follow through with our efforts to gain service, and we must be ready to stick by our program for two or three years if necessary," proclaimed another.

Then Texas Gov. Price Daniel was contacted for support, making statements to the Marshall news in the interest of that the situation be "kept in hand" and offering to help. Texas Rangers closed three of four entrances to the courthouse as a "precautionary move" Thursday.

For a snapshot, the newspaper records show the social movement against de jure service segregation as well as de facto voting segregation warranted multiple stories per day.

Even partial pages, containing coverage from Marshall events, displayed Associated Press  headlines like "Standoff On Rights Seen," "Pastor Held In Sit-In," "Teenagers Sit-In at Longview," "Negro Leader Views Sit-Ins Being Upheld" and "Senate Refuses to Remove Voting Rights Section" (from the civil rights bill.)

Behind the movement

The students acting in the demonstrations were primarily from other towns, while locally-reared students mobilized within the town to raise funds through community members for bonds and fines, said Gail Beil a local historian.

"There was a certain amount of fear," said Williams. "But they knew they were acting in the best interests of themselves as well as the country."

Williams' uncle, Attorney Romeo Williams, identified himself in one report as an organizer of the demonstrations along with Dr. I. J. Lamothe Jr.,  told reporters that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People would assist with "providing bonds and fines."

Romeo Williams assisted in the cases, though reports show Attorney C.B. Bunkley of Dallas represented all of the students and was experienced in civil rights cases.

"Prior to the beginning of the cases in city court, Bunkley submitted six motions to quash the complaints -- three of them dealing with the arrest of the students and three dealing with the law under which the students were being tried," according to an April 10, 1960 report.

The report details how three students received the maximum $200 fine after jury trials. After defense attorney negotiations, students pleaded innocent before the court and three more were found guilty and assessed $50 fines with the other 29 found guilty "on a wholesale basis," also with $50 fines.

Wiley College history professor Lloyd Thompson traveled the country then as a young grad-student in Atlanta, Ga. He recalled that the emotion behind the movement was strong throughout the South, even in "periphery states" like Texas and Oklahoma.

"Emotionally, they were just as involved as the ones on the forefront," said Thompson. "It was a moment of truth. Lives were in jeopardy."

Thompson described the background momentum as a "zeitgeist" or "spirit of the times" that made people active.

"What made people act beyond their normal range was a spirit of the times," he said. "They were vicarious participants in that friends and relatives were not on the front."

Those who helped raise money could have lost their jobs or worse, and still they supported the students in the sit-ins, said Williams.

"There were many other black people who played important roles and helped bail out the kids who got arrested, put up their property," said Williams. "Those people were heroes. For people in their community to put up their properties and to go and help the students took a lot of bravery."

At city court, students were re-released on their original bonds as attorneys motioned for a new trial.

Appeals continued and country trials were set for August 1960. Trials ended abruptly, however.

"My uncle was killed coming back from the courthouse," said Williams. "He had gone to court because two of the students were supposed to go on trial and they went down to the court. The trial was deferred, and they left to go back home."

As Romeo Williams' car crossed the railroad track it was hit by a train killing him and one of the students, injuring the other severely.

"After his death, the cases were dismissed against all the kids who demonstrated and were arrested," Williams said.

Change in Marshall

With the dismissal of the charges against Wiley and Bishop College students came a marked change in Marshall eateries.

The city solved the issue of integrated lunch counters by closing all of them in the downtown area, and none returned until the 1990s.

And while time heals most wounds, including the holes left behind by missing lunch counters, sore feelings over the ordeal of the Marshall sit-ins have been more difficult to dissolve, Williams included.

"It is always there and quite often it is unspoken, but it should be spoken," said Williams. "I get the impression that the white community feels like somebody is going to blame them for what happened decades ago."

While other cities where significant demonstrations and more terrible violence occurred embrace and promote their civil rights history, Williams feels Marshall's has been hidden.

"What happened was part of our society. No one person could have controlled it," added Williams. "Those who participated -- it was a brave act to break the law. Most people don't know it happened, and I think that's sad."

He believes the movement was a positive thing and cannot understand why the students and their supporters are not lauded with a plaque for the students on the courthouse square.

"We seem to be ashamed of it overall, not the black community, not the white community, but the city overall," said Williams. "We seem to be embarrassed by it, but we should be proud of the young people who stood."

He is also proud of his family's involvement and that his uncle represented the students.

"It's the same concept that's happening all over the world. You worked for the country, served in the military, paid taxes. You did everything a citizen was supposed to do but were denied equal protection under the law because of the color of your skin, and that's not right," he said. "They just demanded they receive the same rights, which the Constitution said we should have had anyway."

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