Kress Store "sit-in" honored in downtown Charleston - WCBD-TV: News, Weather, and Sports for Charleston, SC

Kress Store "sit-in" honored in downtown Charleston

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One of the pictures of the "sit-in" displayed during the ceremony. One of the pictures of the "sit-in" displayed during the ceremony.

It's just a simple historical marker on the side of busy King Street in downtown Charleston, but it symbolizes a significant moment in Charleston's Civil Rights Movement.

Back on April 1, 1960, 24 African American students from Burke High School descended upon the Kress and Co. dime store to participate in Charleston's first "sit-in." On Sunday, nearly 60 years later, those 24 people were remembered by the marker outside of the store.

As Cecelia Rogers explains, the 24 students didn't go to the store for food. They went for change.

"The food that we wanted wasn't the food that they were going to serve us," she said. "We didn't want that kind of food. We wanted some gospel, sacred food. We wanted something that would help us, that would inspire us to go out and make mankind different for everybody."

Both Rogers and Minerva King talked to a jam-packed room in the old Kress building Sunday afternoon. The room was filled with people from all generations and all races. 60 years ago, however, the building only allowed white people.

King said their first "sit-in" in Kress changed the face of civil rights in Charleston.

"I know that that "sit-in" demonstration was the beginning of the true activism, real activism in Charleston," she said. "That led to all kinds of demonstrations.  It was just an all out effort to break the system of legal segregation in Charleston."

While the act of sitting in the store for nearly six hours seems easy, the students trained for months. Between role playing and instruction, the students' training was tethered together by a rope of non-violence.

"We were taught that if anyone accosted us in any way, if they insulted us, if they spat on us, if they slapped us, if they tried to beat us up, that we would not retaliate," King said.

King said the students never talked during the "sit-in." The only noises heard from were, "The Lord's Prayer" and verses like Psalm 23.

The students were later arrested by Charleston police. Despite the seeming unjustice, King had nothing but grace for the man who arrested more than 50 years ago.

"He came to us and told us we were being arrested, and in the most gentle manner had us carted away," she said.

King hopes as younger generations pass the marker, they will be motivated to change their communities.

"As with us, it's always a young people's movement. That's why its so important for the young people to listen and learn and carry on where we left off," King said.

The ceremony was organized by the Preservation Society of Charleston.

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