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WSSU, WFU honor Winston-Salem sit-in participants

WSSU Chancellor Elwood L. Robinson reads Proclamation of Recognition, honoring Victor Johnson Jr., a participant in the 1960 Winston-Salem sit-in to desegregate the city's lunch counters. 

The Millennium Center was standing room only as more than 200 Winston-Salem residents gathered to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Winston-Salem sit-in on Sunday, Feb. 23.

This event honored the students from Winston-Salem State University and Wake Forest University, who united in 1960 to protest segregated lunch counters in Winston-Salem.  As a result, Winston-Salem became the first Southern city to desegregate its lunch counters.

Celebrating this historical moment brought WSSU and Wake Forest together again.

“Today we are gathered to remember the courage and compassion of twenty-one students of remarkable character, said Elwood L. Robinson, chancellor of Winston-Salem State University. “Their leadership and legacy live on in our community today.”

Wake Forest University President Nathan Hatch provided the welcomed. Followed by Robinson, who shared a personal story about growing up in the segregated South before reading a Proclamation of Recognition, honoring Victor Johnson Jr.

Johnson was one of eleven African American students from Winston-Salem Teachers College to participate in the sit-in at the Woolworth’s in Winston-Salem on Feb. 23, 1960.

"The sit-in movement was a critical turning point in our city’s history that ultimately brought about the desegregation of lunch counters in the City of Winston-Salem and raised the visibility of the Civil Rights movement to the national stage," Robinson said.

WSSU Chancellor Elwood L. Robinson shaking hands with Victor Johnson Jr. following a Proclamation of Recognition honoring Johnson. 

The keynote address was given by Jonathan L. Walton, dean of the Divinity School and Wait Chapel at Wake Forest University. During his keynote, Walton said that this event was not just to memorialize what happened.

"We are here to let subsequent generations know that privilege comes with a price and citizenship comes with a cost," said Walton. " We are not here today to merely memorialize what was. We are not just here to celebrate past success. We are also here to inspire one another to continue the quest for justice, democracy and equality..."

The program concluded with a musical offering from the WSSU Singing Rams, led by Maestra D'Walla Simmons-Burke. Their selection, "Sing Out! March On!" became the theme as the choir led a procession to the site of the sit-in, located at the corner of Fourth and Liberty Streets. A historical marker labels the site as the location of the “First sit-in victory in North Carolina.”

The WSSU Singing Rams, led by Maestra D'Walla Simmons-Burke perform "Sing Out! March On" by Joshuah Campbell.

A vigil was held near the site of the former Woolworth’s building. Twenty-one stools were set up to represent the students who participated in the original sit-in. As those student names were called, current students from either WSSU or Wake Forest took a seat on a stool, except for Johnson who represented himself.

“We speak their names in gratitude…in honor of the students who, sixty years ago, sat at this site so that we all might live greater lives of justice and peace,” said Robinson.

More Photos: 60th Anniversary of Winston-Salem Sit-In 

Students from WSSU pose with Victor Johnson Jr., one of 11 students from Winston-Salem Teachers College to participate in the sit-in at the Woolworth's in Winston-Salem on Feb. 23, 1960. 

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