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How the sit-in movement spread and grew in Winston-Salem

Nonviolent protests at a lunch counter that started with one man grew to include nearly two dozen students. Their actions created change in the Twin City.

Green plaque with gold lettering. A tree and a glass building are in the background.

The plaque commemorating the victory stands near the intersection of 4th and Liberty Streets.

Photo by WStoday

Feb. 8 marks the day Carl Wesley Matthews sat down at a whites-only lunch counter at the FW Woolworth’s store at the corner of West Fourth and Trade streets. He was inspired by a similar protest four students in Greensboro had staged a week earlier. Matthews sat at the counter until the store closed.

The nonviolent protest grew the following days, with Black and white students joining Matthews from Winston-Salem Teachers College (now Winston-Salem State University), Wake Forest College (now Wake Forest University), and Atkins High School. More than 20 protesters were arrested for trespassing and jailed on Feb. 23, 1960.

Less than three months later on May 23, Winston-Salem became the first city in the South to voluntarily desegregate lunch counters and restaurants.

The marker to commemorate the events was dedicated in 2000, around the corner from the former Woolworth’s store. Plans to restore the building to what it looked like in 1960 were recently announced.