1943 April 17

Sit-in Challenges Segregated Washington D.C. Restaurants


A sit-in by African-American students at Howard University students challenged racial segregation at the Little Palace Cafeteria, on 14th and U Streets in Washington, D.C. This event and a similar sit-in in Chicago on May 8, 1943, were signs of the rising demands for racial equality in 1943. Howard University students staged a second sit-in the following year, on April 22, 1944. The sit-ins were soon quashed by pressure from Southerners in Congress who controlled the budget for the District of Columbia and Howard University. Restaurants in Washington, D.C., remained racially segregated for another decade, until a court ordered them integrated on June 8, 1953, in the case of District of Columbia v. John R. Thompson.

The famous sit-ins, on February 1, 1960, in short, were not the first such protests. Several other sit-ins occurred in the 1940s and 1950s. The crucial difference, however, is that 1960 sit-ins inspired a mass movement that swept the South and inspired political activism by white students in the North.

One participant in the 1943 sit-in was Pauli Murray (July 1, 1985), who went on to become a noted lawyer, civil rights activist, feminist and poet. In the 1960s she was asked by the President’s Commission on the Status of Women to write a paper on whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applies to women. Her paper argued that it did, and the Commission accepted her argument (October 11, 1963). On November 22, 1971, in Reed v. Reed, the Supreme Court accepted the argument, marking a breakthrough for constitutional protection of equality for women.

Take the civil rights history tour of Washington, D.C.: http://washington.org/dc-itinerary/dc-itinerary-major-civil-rights-sites-1-day

Read Pauli Murray’s memoirs: Pauli Murray, Proud Shoes (1956)

Learn more: Patricia Bell-Scott, The Firebrand and the First Lady: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Racial Justice (2016)

Learn more about Pauli Murray: http://paulimurrayproject.org/

Learn more about African American history: Henry Louis Gates, Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513-2008 (2011)

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