...its necessity and results seemed distant and faded into history. Yet it was only 4 years before my birth that Chattanooga businesses departed from “separate but equal” status for African Americans.
The Jim Crow laws from Civil War reconstruction were still shaping our city. What was this alien world were blacks were regulated to different water fountains, bathrooms, and barred from lunch counters? In February 1960 - Howard High School students led peaceful sit-ins at segregated lunch counters. Soon, each afternoon stores began closing down their lunch counter service - and sometimes their doors in response.
Sit-in locations: McClellan Stores, 713 Market St., Woolworth, 729 Market St., W.T. Grant, 715 Market St., and S.H. Kress, 822 Market St.
A minority of white youth mobs responded with agitation, inflammatory language and violence. So too gathered many onlookers each afternoon - drawn by a natural interest in a spectacle. Tensions rose.
By the third day, Mayor Rudy Olgiatti instructed the fire department to utilize water hoses on crowds if trouble broke out. And when it did - Chattanooga became the first city to employ such a tactic on demonstrators (black & white). But calmer heads prevailed and the daily events subsided. By April - just three months later, Chattanooga lunch counters were de-segregated.
You may recognize the names of the first and foremost leaders of the efforts: Dr. Robert Taylor, JoAnne Favors, Leamon Pierce, Billy Edwards, James Mapp and Robert Parks.