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Fifty Years Ago: Carolina Gentlemen Sit In.

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | February 2, 2010

Posted by Cliff Tuttle © 2010

On February 1, 1960 four black students “sat in” at a segregated lunch counter at Woolworth’s in Greensboro, NC.  It was a historic event because it started a movement — one that only ended when its goal had been achieved. The International Civil Rights Center and Museum opened its doors today at the very building where the Woolworth’s lunch was located and where the Woolworth’s sign still hangs.

But like many great events, its significance was not immediately evident or widely noted.  The New York Times did not report about it until about two weeks later.

The four students, from North Carolina A&T College, an all-black institution, were joined, on subsequent days by a growing number of others, including numerous white people. At least two, possibly more, of these pioneers were student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Since they had been arrested and put in jail, they soon found themselves before the Men’s Honor Council at the University.  UNC had a self-governing honor system, where students report other students who fail to live up to the ideals of a “Carolina Gentleman.” Arcane as it sounds today, the code of student conduct was, for men at least, built upon the ideal of “gentlemanly conduct.”

About eight years after this event, as a UNC student government politico, I happened to run across the written opinion of the student court in its archives.  The court, composed of university undergraduates, acknowledged that under well-established precedent, disorderly conduct — the kind that got you arrested by the police — was not  conduct becoming a gentleman.

However, there were other characteristics of “gentlemanly conduct” that must be considered.  A gentleman is governed by moral principles. A gentleman has the courage of his convictions.  A gentleman speaks out against injustice.

The court concluded that the lunch counter sit-in was a courageous, principled statement that was consistent with gentlemanly conduct.

Good show, Carolina Gentlemen!



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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