Royal Ice Cream Parlor Sit-in, 1957

Royal Ice Cream Parlor Sit-in, 1957

On June 23, 1957, Rev. Douglas Moore of Asbury Temple Methodist Church led seven young, well-dressed African American students, five of whom are pictured praying here, into the segregated Royal Ice Cream Parlor. The group entered the “colored” entrance at back of the restaurant and proceeded to the white section, where they sat down and ordered ice cream. The staff refused to serve them, and when told to leave by the manager, they responded by ordering another round of ice cream. The protesters were arrested and fined $10 plus court fees. Asked later about the incident by a reporter, Moore said only, “We just decided we wanted to cool off, to get some ice cream or milkshakes.”

Moore sought the help of Durham lawyer Floyd McKissick, a prominent civil rights activist. The case was upheld by the North Carolina Supreme Court, and the United States Supreme Court declined to hear it on the grounds that the protesters’ rights had not been violated, since laws against their actions were on the books.

The Royal Ice Cream sit-in not only provoked controversy in the white community; it created a huge uproar among black citizens, many of whose members viewed the protesters not as freedom fighters but as trouble makers led astray by a radical young minister and an outsider. Although the sit-in did not get a lot of support, it did set the stage for future protests. It is documented that the February 1, 1960, Greensboro Woolworth’s protesters, who ignited lunch counter sit-ins throughout the South, knew about and were perhaps inspired by the Royal Ice Cream sit-in. By the time the 1960 sit-ins reached Durham, the views of the town’s black citizens had changed, with most being in favor of the protests.

Many people think the Greensboro Woolworth’s sit-ins were the first ever. Actually, sit-ins had already occurred in a number of locations across country. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) held them in Chicago and St. Louis in the 1940s. In the South, there were sit-ins in Washington, D.C., in 1943 and 1944; in Baton Rouge, La., between 1954 and 60; and in Miami in 1959. In North Carolina in the summer of 1954, Reginald Hawkins, a Charlotte dentist and ordained minister, and others sat down at the restaurant in the new Douglas Airport.