A sit-in or sit-down is a form of direct action that involves one or more people occupying an area for a protest, often to promote political, social, or economic change. The protestors gather conspicuously in a space or building, refusing to move unless their demands are met. The often clearly visible demonstrations are intended to spread awareness among the public, or disrupt the goings-on of the protested organisation.

United States

Civil Rights Movement

The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) conducted sit-ins as early as the 1940s. Ernest Calloway refers to Bernice Fisher as "Godmother of the restaurant 'sit-in' technique."[1] In August 1939, African-American attorney Samuel Wilbert Tucker organized a sit-in at the then-segregated Alexandria, Virginia, library.[2] Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) labor delegates had a brief, spontaneous lunch counter sit-in during their 1947 Columbus, Ohio convention.[3]

In one of the earliest use of sit-ins against racism, followers of Father Divine and the International Peace Mission Movement joined with the Cafeteria Workers Union, Local 302, in September 1939 to protest racially unfair hiring practices at New York's Shack Sandwich Shops, Inc. According to the New York Times for September 23, 1939,[4] on Thursday between 75 and 100 followers showed up at the restaurant at Forty-first Street and Lexington Avenue, where most of the strike activity has been concentrated, and groups went into the place, purchased five-cent cups of coffee, and conducted what might be described as a kind of customers' nickel sit down strike. Other patrons were unable to find seats."[5]

In May 1942, James Farmer, Jr., an organizer for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, led a group of 27 people to protest the racially discriminatory no-service policy of the Jack Spratt Diner on 47th Street in Chicago. Each seating area in the diner was taken by groups that included at least one black person. The peaceful patrons, several from the campus of the nearby University of Chicago, then tried to order; all were refused. The police were called, but when they arrived they told the management that no laws were being broken, so no arrests were made. The diner closed for the night but thereafter, according to periodic checks made by CORE activists, it no longer enforced its discriminatory policy.[6]

With the encouragement of Melvin B. Tolson and Farmer, students from Wiley and Bishop Colleges organized the first sit-in in Texas in the rotunda of the Harrison County Courthouse in Marshall. This sit-in directly challenged the oldest White Citizens Party in Texas and would culminate in the reversal of Jim Crow laws in the state and the desegregation of postgraduate studies in Texas by the Sweatt v. Painter (1950) verdict. Sit-ins were an integral part of the nonviolent strategy of civil disobedience and mass protests that eventually led to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which ended legally sanctioned racial segregation in the United States and also passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that struck down many racially motivated barriers used to deny voting rights to non-whites.

1955 Baltimore, Maryland

One of the earliest lunch counter sit-ins of the Civil Rights Movement was started by a group of Morgan State College (now University) students and the Baltimore chapter of CORE. Their goal was to desegregate Read's drug stores. The peaceful impromptu sit-in lasted less than one half an hour and the students were not served. They left voluntarily and no one was arrested. After losing business from the sit-in and several local protests, two days later the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper ran a story featuring Arthur Nattans, Sr., then President of Read's who was quoted saying, "We will serve all customers throughout our entire stores, including the fountains, and this becomes effective immediately". As a result, 37 Baltimore-area lunch counters became desegregated.[7][8]

1957 Durham, North Carolina

At another early sit-in, the "Royal Seven", a group of three women and four men from Durham, North Carolina, sat in at the Royal Ice Cream Parlor on June 23, 1957, to protest practices of segregation.[9] The activists were arrested and charged with trespassing. Their efforts are now recognized via historical markers in Durham. They went to court three times; each case ended in their being found guilty.

1958 Wichita and Oklahoma City

This sit-in for the purpose of integrating segregated establishments began on July 19, 1958, in Wichita, Kansas, at Dockum Drugs, a store in the old Rexall chain.[10] In early August, the drugstore became integrated, then remainder of Dockum stores in all of Kansas. A few weeks later on August 19, 1958, in Oklahoma City, a nationally recognized sit-in at the Katz Drug Store lunch counter occurred. The Oklahoma City Sit-in Movement was led by NAACP Youth Council leader Clara Luper, a local high school teacher, and young local students, including Luper's eight-year-old daughter, who suggested the sit-in be held. The group quickly desegregated the Katz Drug Store lunch counters. It took several more years, but she and the students, using the tactic, integrated all of Oklahoma City's eating establishments. Today, in downtown Wichita, Kansas, a statue depicting a waitress at a counter serving people honors this pioneering sit-in.[11]

1960 Greensboro and Nashville

Following the Oklahoma City sit-ins, the tactic of non-violent student sit-ins spread. The Greensboro sit-ins at a Woolworth's in Greensboro, North Carolina, on February 1, 1960, launched a wave of anti-segregation sit-ins across the South and opened a national awareness of the depth of segregation in the nation.[12] Within weeks, sit-in campaigns had begun in nearly a dozen cities, primarily targeting Woolworth's and S. H. Kress and other stores of other national chains.[13]

The largest and best-organized of these campaigns were the Nashville sit-ins, whose groundwork was already underway. They involved hundreds of participants, and led to the successful desegregation of Nashville lunch counters.[14] Most of the participants in the Nashville sit-ins were college students, and many, such as Diane Nash, James Bevel, Bernard Lafayette, and C. T. Vivian, went on to lead, strategize, and direct almost every aspect of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. The students of the historically black colleges and universities in the city played a critical role in implementing the Nashville sit-ins.

1961 Rock Hill, South Carolina

The Friendship Nine was a group of African American men who went to jail after staging a sit-in at a segregated McCrory's lunch counter in Rock Hill, South Carolina in 1961. The group gained nationwide attention because they followed the Nashville student's strategy of not bailing themselves out of jail and called it "Jail, No Bail",[15][16][17][18][19] which lessened the huge financial burden civil rights groups were facing as the sit-in movement spread across the South. They became known as the Friendship Nine because eight of the nine men were students at Rock Hill's Friendship Junior College. They are sometimes referred to as the Rock Hill Nine.[20]

1962 University of Chicago, Illinois

In January 1962, Bernie Sanders, then a student at the University of Chicago, helped lead the first sit-in in Chicago history, protesting university president George Wells Beadle's segregated campus housing policy. "We feel it is an intolerable situation, when Negro and white students of the university cannot live together in university-owned apartments," Sanders told a crowd of about 200 students. After several days of protests, Beadle met with students to form a commission to investigate discrimination.[21][22]

Disability rights movement

1977 San Francisco

Initially Joseph Califano, U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, refused to sign meaningful regulations for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which was the first U.S. federal civil rights protection for people with disabilities.[23] After an ultimatum and deadline, demonstrations took place in ten U.S. cities on April 5, 1977, including the beginning of the 504 Sit-in at the San Francisco Office of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. This sit-in, led by Judith Heumann and organized by Kitty Cone, lasted until May 4, 1977, a total of 25 days, with more than 150 people refusing to leave. It is the longest sit-in at a federal building to date. Joseph Califano signed the regulations on April 28, 1977.[24][25][26][27][28][29]

Feminist movement

1969 Marlene Dixon

In 1969 there was a sit-in at the University of Chicago to protest the firing of feminist sociology professor Marlene Dixon.[30] On February 12, 1969, a faculty committee chaired by Hanna H. Gray, Associate Professor of History, concluded that no violation of normal appointment procedures had occurred, but recommended that Dixon be offered a one-year terminal reappointment since the resolution of her status had been delayed by the controversy surrounding the decision; Dixon refused.[31] On February 15, the protestors still sitting-in voted to stop.[31] In March 1969, at the decision of University disciplinary committees, forty-two students involved in the Administration Building sit-in were expelled, eighty-one were suspended, and three were placed on probation.[31]

A "Statement on the University of Chicago sit-in" was included in the feminist anthology Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings From The Women's Liberation Movement (edited by Robin Morgan, published in 1970); this statement refers to the Marlene Dixon sit-in.[31][32][33]

1970 Ladies' Home Journal

In March 1970, feminists held an 11-hour sit-in at the Ladies' Home Journal's office, which resulted in them getting the opportunity to produce a section of the magazine that August.[34]

Gun control lobby

2016 United States House of Representatives

The sit-in began on June 22, 2016, when members of the House Democratic Caucus declared their intention to remain on the floor of the United States House of Representatives until its Republican Speaker, Paul Ryan, allowed votes on gun safety legislation in the aftermath of the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting.[35]

A group of the Democrats ultimately occupied the floor through the night, only leaving on the afternoon of June 23. None of the measures demanded by the occupying members were given a vote.[36]

LGBT rights movement

1965 Philadelphia

In April 1965, 150 gender non-conforming people held a sit-in at Dewey's Coffee Shop in Philadelphia to protest the fact that the shop was refusing to serve young people in "non-conformist clothing".[37] Reports at the time referred specifically to the restaurant's discriminatory denials of service to "homosexuals," "masculine women," and "feminine men."[38] After three protesters refused to leave after being denied service they, along with a black gay activist, were arrested. This led to a picket of the establishment organized by the black LGBT community. In May another sit-in was organized and Dewey's finally agreed to end their discriminatory policies.[39]

1966 New York

On April 21, 1966 gay activists of the Mattachine Society of New York (MSNY) conducted a "Sip-In" at Julius' Bar at 10th Street [40]


Eco-protest movement

2016 Budapest, Hungary

Eco-protesters occupied the area of the Kertem (Városliget, Budapest, Hungary) for a protest against the building plans in Városliget (City Park, Budapest).


2014 anti-government

The Azadi March (Freedom March) led by Imran Khan of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), and Inqilab March (Revolution March) led by Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri of Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) are political,[41] aiming at a probe of election rigging by Nawaz Sharif, as well as restoration of "true democracy and social, political and economical reforms." The Azadi March started on 14 August 2014 and ended on 17 December 2014. It is considered to be the longest-lasting public sit-in in Pakistan's history. Concepcion Picciotto's sit-in was the more long-lasting sit-in, but on an individual level.

See also


  1. "OF TIME AND SOUND, Requiem For A Free, Compassionate Spirit", by Ernest Galloway, published in Missouri Teamster, May 12, 1966, Page 7.
  2. "America's First Sit-Down Strike: The 1939 Alexandria Library Sit-In". City of Alexandria. Archived from the original on May 28, 2010. Retrieved August 24, 2016.
  3. (NYT Mar 17, 1947: 16)
  4. "DIVINE'S FOLLOWERS GIVE AID TO STRIKERS: With Evangelist's Sanction They 'Sit Down' in Restaurant". New York Times. 23 Sep 1939. ProQuest 103043251.
  5. "DIVINE'S FOLLOWERS GIVE AID TO STRIKERS; With Evangelist's Sanction They 'Sit Down' in Restaurant". New York Times. US. 1939-09-23. Retrieved 2010-07-20.
  6. Grossman, Ron (February 24, 2014). "Birth of the sit-in". Chicago Tribune. 1. p. 17.
  7. Pousson, Eli (7 January 2011). "Why the West Side Matters: Read's Drug Store and Baltimore's Civil Rights Heritage". Baltimore Heritage Organization. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  8. Gunts, Edward (8 February 2011). "Read's drugstore flap brings Baltimore civil rights history to life". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  9. Royal Ice Cream Sit-in — Durham, NC ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
  10. Eckels, Carla. "Kansas Sit-In Gets Its Due at Last", National Public Radio, October 21, 2006. Accessed September 15, 2010.
  11. "Dockum Drug Store Sit-In, May 10 2012 - Video -".
  12. First Southern Sit-in, Greensboro NC ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
  13. Sit-ins Spread Across the South ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
  14. Nashville Student Movement ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
  15. "Associated Press'Sing-In' Negroes Eat Hearty; Say 'Jail—No Bail'". The Spartanburg Herald. Associated Press. February 21, 1961. Retrieved December 1, 2010. Eight Negro Demonstrators is a disciplinary cell at the York County Prison Camp accepted and ate second helpings Monday of the full meal given every third day to prisoners on bread and water.
  16. Scoggins, Michael , Rawlinson David. "Rock Hill, Jail No Bail & The Friendship Nine". Friendship Jr. College 445 Allen St. Rock Hill, South Carolina. Archived from the original on 17 November 2011. Retrieved 21 October 2011."(..) The first man tried was Charles Taylor, the Friendship student from New Jersey. Taylor was tried, found guilty, convicted, and sentenced to $100 fine or 30 days hard labor on the York County Prison Farm. The protesters' attorney, an African-American lawyer from Sumter named Ernest A. Finney, then asked the judge to let Taylor's trial be used as a basis for the other nine and the judge agreed. The other nine were then tried, found guilty, and sentenced to the same punishment. Taylor was concerned about possibly losing his athletic scholarship at Friendship, so with the assistance of the NAACP, he paid his bail and was released. The NAACP offered to pay the bail for the remaining nine protesters but they refused, and on February 2, they began serving out their 30-day sentences on the county prison farm. After beginning their sentence on the county farm, the nine protesters were quickly given the appellation "Friendship Nine" by the press, and the case became famous nationwide. Motorcades of other protesters and supporters converged on the prison, and members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) came to Rock Hill and demonstrated; they too were arrested, jailed and refused bail. Over the course of the next year further demonstrations and arrests followed in Rock Hill, as well as in other cities throughout the United States. Protesters across the country adopted the "jail no bail" policy implemented by the Nashville students and the Friendship Nine, and served out their jail sentences rather than helping to subsidize a system that supported segregation and inequality. These acts of heroism by the Friendship Nine and others helped to spur even larger protests like the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963 and the famous march from Selma to Montgomery in March 1965. (..)"
  17. "Jail, No Bail' Idea Stymied Cities' Profiting From Civil Rights Protesters". South Carolina ETV's "Carolina Stories.". The PBS NewsHour. Retrieved 21 October 2011."The 'Jail, No Bail' strategy became a new tactic in the fight for civil rights. Documentary produced by South Carolina ETV documenting the key moment in civil rights history." (Video and Audio)
  18. "Jail, No Bail". Carolina Stories. South Carolina ETV. Archived from the original on 19 December 2011. Retrieved 21 October 2011."(..) In previous sit-ins across the South, protestors were arrested, processed by the police, fined and then released, creating a dubious revenue stream from which many municipalities easily profited. But when the Friendship students went before the judge, they chose to serve their time behind bars. For the first time, not only did the city not collect its $100 per person, it actually had to pay to house and feed the men. (..) Word of their action spread like wildfire, receiving national media attention, including the New York Times. The "Jail, No Bail" strategy became the new tactic that helped galvanize the civil rights protest movement. (..)"
  19. Hartford, Bruce. "Rock Hill SC, "Jail-No-Bail" Sit-ins (Feb-Mar)". The Civil Rights Movement Veterans. Westwind Writers Inc. Retrieved 21 October 2011."(..) At the October 1960 SNCC strategy conference in Atlanta, some activists argue for "Jail-No-Bail" tactics. They take a Gandhian position that paying bail or fines indicates acceptance of an immoral system and validates their own arrests. And by serving their sentences, they dramatize the injustice, intensify the struggle, and gain additional media coverage. There is also a practical component to "Jail-No-Bail." The Movement has little money and most southern Blacks are poor. It is hard to scrape up bail money, and sit-in struggles are faltering — not from lack of volunteers to risk arrest — but from lack of money to bail them out. Moreover, paying fines provides the cops with financial resources that are then used to continue suppressing the freedom struggle. By refusing bail, they render meaningless the no-money-for-bail barrier and by serving time they put financial pressure on local authorities who have to pay the costs of incarcerating them. (..)"
  20. "The Friendship Nine / January 31, 1961". Herald Online. February 22, 2004. Retrieved December 1, 2010. They were students at Friendship College and called themselves the Friendship Nine. The members of this group were James Wells, William "Dub" Massey, Robert McCullough, John Gaines, William "Scoop" Williamson, Willie McLeod, Thomas Gaither, Clarence Graham, Charles Taylor and Mack Workman.
  21. Frizell, Sam (2015-05-26). "The Radical Education of Bernie Sanders". Time Magazine. Retrieved 2015-09-10.
  22. Perlstein, Rick (January 2015). "A political education". The University of Chicago Magazine. Retrieved 2015-09-10.
  23. "Short History of the 504 Sit in". Archived from the original on 2016-09-09.
  24. "Disability History Timeline". Rehabilitation Research & Training Center on Independent Living Management. Temple University. 2002. Archived from the original on 2013-12-20.
  25. "The Regents of the University of California. 2008. "The Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement." Berkeley, CA: The University of California Berkeley". Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  26. "Disability Social History Project, article title Famous (and not-so-famous) People with Disabilities". Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  27. "EDGE - Curriculum - Biology".
  28. "Political Organizer for Disability Rights, 1970s-1990s, and Strategist for Section 504 Demonstrations, 1977".
  29. "Kitty Cone, Facts On File, Inc., 2009. American History Online; Facts on File information obtained from Encyclopedia of American Disability History". Encyclopedia of American Disability History.
  30. "CWLU Chronology: A timeline for Second Wave Feminism". 1968-04-04. Archived from the original on 2014-10-05. Retrieved 2015-05-08.
  31. "Special Collections Research Center". Retrieved 2015-05-08.
  32. Sisterhood is powerful : an anthology of writings from the women's liberation movement (Book, 1970). []. OCLC 96157.
  33. Richard Handler (15 June 2004). Significant Others: Interpersonal and Professional Commitments in Anthropology. Univ of Wisconsin Press. pp. 36–. ISBN 978-0-299-19473-4.
  34. Gibson, Megan (2011-08-12). "The 'Ladies' Home Journal' Sit-In - A Brief History of Women's Protests - TIME". Retrieved 2015-01-28.
  35. "How Democrats mounted their guns sit-in". Politico. 22 June 2016.
  36. "House Democrats End Their Sit-In Protest Over Gun Reform". The Huffington Post. 24 June 2016.
  37. "Philadelphia Freedom: The Dewey's Lunch Counter Sit-In / Queerty". October 10, 2011. Retrieved May 15, 2012.
  38. Stein, Marc. "Dewey's Sit-in, Philadelphia, April 25, 1965". OutHistory. Retrieved April 17, 2015.
  39. "Compton's Cafeteria and Dewey's Protest | TG Center". December 19, 2009. Retrieved May 15, 2012.
  40. "Before the Stonewall Riots There Was the Sip-In". New York Times. April 21, 2016. Retrieved September 4, 2017.
  41. "Pakistan crisis: Islamabad sees more violent protests". BBC. BBC. 1 September 2014. Retrieved 26 September 2014.
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