The S.H. Kress & Co. sit-in of April 1, 1960, will be officially recognized today with the unveiling of a historical marker at the building.
The installation of the marker on King Street near the corner of Wentworth Street is a result of an annual Preservation Society of Charleston initiative, “Seven to Save,” which began in 2011 and identified seven projects that year, including “Civil Rights Era Sites.” (Other projects were named in 2012 and 2013.)
As a result, the Preservation Society developed a list of 12 civil rights era structures and polled the community to whittle down the list to five. The Kress building was one of the five to be formally acknowledged with a historic marker, according to Community Outreach Manager Aurora Harris.
To come up with the initial list, Harris met with dozens of community leaders and worked hard to engage the public, she said.
The installation of a marker is no easy task, noted Preservation Society Executive Director Evan Thompson. The state and city must approve the site choice, recognizing its historical merit and approving the descriptive text that appears on the sign.
“A lot of the sites associated with civil rights history are not architecturally significant, but have some kind of cultural history associated with them,” Thompson said, adding that this part of Charleston’s heritage for too long has been under-appreciated or overlooked. “Preservation is about recognizing the total community,” he said.
The Preservation Society has set up a “Seven to Save” fund. The money will be used to make repairs and renovations, provide maintenance and oversight and produce markers and other documentation.
The five sites are:
1. James Simons Elementary
A marker was installed at the school in April recognizing the 1963 desegregation of the Charleston County School District. That year, Oveta Glover and Barbara and Gale Ford were the first black students to attend James Simons Elementary; Millicent Brown, daughter of J. Arthur Brown, was the first black student at Rivers High School.
2. The Cigar Factory
American Tobacco Co. workers, mostly black women, walked out of the segregated Cigar Factory in October 1944 to protect wages and fight discrimination. (From 1946 to 1948, the factory became a site of voter registration drives in Charleston.) The strike helped lay the foundation for the civil rights activism of the 1950s and ‘60s, and it popularized the song “We Shall Overcome.” A marker was erected here in April.
3. S.H. Kress & Co.
The sit-ins of the 1960s swept across the South and reached Charleston when 24 Burke High School students stationed themselves at the lunch counter of the Kress Store in protest of its policy of segregation.
4. The Progressive Club
Founded by Esau Jenkins in 1948, The Progressive Club on Johns Island provided civic education to residents and after-school activities for the island’s youth. It also became a center for civil rights activists such as Bill Saunders, who was once nearly shot when a bullet came through the front window. The installation of the historic marker is scheduled for Sept. 8.
5. Medical University of South Carolina
Hospital workers went on strike in 1969, led by Mary Moultrie, in an effort to address unequal pay and unfair treatment of black nurses. Prominent civil rights leaders, including Coretta Scott King, lent a hand in the protest, which lasted 113 days. Saunders helped negotiate a settlement that included the rehiring of all strikers and the implementation of grievance procedures. The marker will be unveiled Sept. 19.
For more information on the Seven to Save program, visit www.preservationsociety.org.