The newest historic marker in downtown Charleston — a reminder of a milestone in civil rights movement — started drawing attention as soon it was unveiled Sunday afternoon.
A prominent black-and-white sign in front of the S.H. Kress Building at 281 King St. marks the site of a 1960 lunch counter sit-in that started the push for desegregation in Charleston. The big historical marker was uncovered after a 3 p.m. program explaining its significance.
The program, organized by the Preservation Society of Charleston, was held inside the building, because too many people showed up to fit on the sidewalk. About 100 people, both black and white, crowded into a third-floor conference room of the Moore & Van Allen Law Firm, one of the businesses that now occupy the former “five & dime” store where blacks could shop but not eat lunch in the early 1960s.
Pedestrians immediately started stopping to read the new sign and take photographs Sunday afternoon.
It’s hard to miss. Standing about 7 feet tall at the edge of the sidewalk near the street, it’s the most prominent marker on King Street. One side tells the history of the Kress building and the other the significance of the sit-in.
The occasion generated national attention, as well. CBS Evening News called The Post and Courier newsroom for permission to use the newspaper’s archive photos of the protest. The photos had been displayed on a screen behind the speakers during Sunday’s King Street program.
The attention is only fitting, according to those who spoke at the program. The sit-in was the first public event in Charleston to protest segregation, and it kicked off “an all-out effort to break racism in Charleston,” Minerva Brown King said. She was one of the 24 Burke High School students who sat at the counter for more than five hours until they were arrested on trespassing charges.
It’s significant that the fight for segregation was led by a group of high school students, all the speakers noted. Social change “is always a young people’s movement,” said King, who continues to work with youth as a school librarian. She hopes the marker will inspire today’s youth to continue the fight for equality.
“We’re just as concerned with our educational system,” she said, “and how black and brown children still get the short end of the stick.”
Cecilia Gordon Rogers, a school principal who also participated in the sit-in as a student, also hopes the marker inspires a new generation.
“There’s still injustice today … and education is my passion,” she said.
Jon Hale, who teaches history and education at the College of Charleston, urged parents and teachers to “see students as social-change agents” and “recommit ourselves to a quality public education.”
Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.