Under the theme of The Nation We Build Together, the National Museum of American History  will open the newly transformed wing of the museum’s second floor. The four exhibitions on this floor tell the story of America’s founding and future as a country to fulfill the principles and ideals of freedom and opportunity. The Wallace H. Coulter Unity Square is the floor’s new program space dedicated to immersive activities and performances that richly illustrate America’s participatory democracy.

At the center of Unity Square, is a small section of the original F.W. Woolworth’s Lunch Counter from Greensboro, N.C.

In 1960, if you were African-American, you were not allowed to sit at the F.W. Woolworth store lunch counter in Greensboro. Racial inequality pervaded American life. Throughout the South, a racist system known as “Jim Crow” segregated people in restaurants, movie theaters, restrooms and most other accommodations. When African-Americans tried to find a house or apartment, register to vote, or even order lunch, they were denied equal rights. The Woolworth’s in the Greensboro, like other stores in the community, refused to seat and serve African-Americans at the luncheonette.

On Feb.1, 1960, four African American students sat down at the counter and asked for service. Their request was refused. When asked to leave, they remained in their seats.  Ezell A. Blair Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil and David L. Richmond were enrolled at the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College. Their “passive sit-down demand” began the first sustained sit-in and ignited a youth-led movement to challenge injustice and inequality throughout the South.

In Greensboro, hundreds of students, civil rights organizations, churches and members of the community joined in a six-month-long protest. They challenged the company’s policy of racial discrimination by sitting at the counter, and, later, organizing an economic boycott of the store.  Their defiance heightened many Americans’ awareness of racial injustice and ultimately led to the desegregation of the F.W. Woolworth lunch counter on July 25, 1960.

The closing of the Greensboro Woolworth's in 1993 presented museum curators with the opportunity to acquire this historic artifact. After extensive negotiations with Woolworth's executives and representatives of the local community, a section of the lunch counter was donated to the Smithsonian.

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