On this day in WNC history: The sit-in movement that helped spark desegregation began in North Carolina, at a Greensboro lunch counter, in early 1960. These demonstrations grew over two years and included more than 70,000 Black and white non-violent demonstrators. Many of these civil rights activists demanded equal service in cities, but some also took to their small hometowns, including here in western North Carolina.

On May 11, 1961, thirteen Black youth were arrested in Rutherfordton for “trespassing” at Smith’s lunch counter. That March the first sit-in at the counter resulted in six arrests, and continued protests between these two demonstrations resulted in violence against those involved. The second group of demonstrators had just taken seats when they were promptly arrested and held under $50 cash bonds. The youngest of them was only fourteen. Some were aided by an African American barber in the community who posted bail. Due in part to their efforts, by the late 1960s, businesses and schools in the county desegregated.

Other demonstrations occurred in WNC’s largest city as well. Asheville protests began in the summer of 1960, as Black teenagers, largely from Stephens-Lee High School, picketed restaurants and organized sit-ins after failed attempts to get service. They styled themselves as ASCORE – the Asheville Student Committee on Racial Equality. This group was aided by W.E. Roland, the owner of a downtown jewelry store, who offered his business as a meeting space. After efforts at S.H. Kress, Woolworths, and many businesses on Tunnel Road, Asheville quickly acquiesced so as not to deter tourists. These actions were often intentionally omitted from local media coverage. Most information about ASCORE comes from oral interviews with former members. Pack Memorial Library (de-segregated in 1961) has several such interviews, including a fascinating account by William “Butch” Dendy.

Read Dendy Interview: https://7039.sydneyplus.com/archive/final/Portal.aspx?lang=en-US

Read Interview with Katherine Mae Hines of Rutherfordton Sit in: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1W8_yX9Yrakgom6dTM63VEK1KaKPiI5o8/edit?usp=sharing&ouid=103509890781728689021&rtpof=true&sd=true 

Charlotte Observer, May 12, 1961

W.E. Roland, D.H. Ramsey Special Collections, UNC Asheville;

William Dendy, Stephens-Lee Yearbook, 1961, Buncombe County Special Collections, Pack Memorial Library