Picketing on Tate Street, a UNCG civil rights milestone
You likely know of the pivotal 1960 Woolworth sit-in, which integrated the lunch counter of that Greensboro Woolworth store and sparked similar sit-ins that year in other cities.
Do you know about the 1963 Tate Street protest?
Led and carried out by Woman’s College (UNCG) students – and with the official support of the student government – Woman’s College students boycotted two restaurants and a cinema. The students demanded racial desegregation at these three businesses located near the section called “the corner.” A few dozen students picketed. The student government, led by Anne Prince Cuddy and Charlotte Vestal Brown, laid out a strong, clear resolution. These brave students were successful. By the end of 1963, all Tate Street businesses were integrated.
The Tate Street boycott effort had a number of student leaders. One was Sina McGimpsey Reid. She recalled the picketing – which was nearly 60 years ago – in an interview last week from her retirement community in South Carolina. She is still passionate about justice and human rights – and caring for people. “It’s still about love and relationships, but now I’m flying under the radar,” she said, adding that it’s all about “compassion and empathetic understanding to the ‘other,’ for those who look like me and those who don’t look like me.”
Back in 1961 and 1962, there had been stirrings in the student body for change on Tate Street, where the two restaurants were not integrated. Four or five African-American WC students staged a protest there, Gwen Jones Magee ’63 told a UNCG Magazine reporter in 2010. “We did it for several days. It didn’t go anywhere,” she recalled. “The WC students didn’t blink an eye about crossing the [picket] line.”
In 1962, 22 African-American WC students signed a letter to the student government president at the time, asking for the organization’s support, as the Cinema Theatre, Apple House restaurant, and Town & College restaurant refused to desegregate. In February 1963, 23 signed a letter to Chancellor Otis Singletary, asking for his support.
“Is it not widely known and seemingly accepted by all that some students cannot attend certain places on campus because of their color? We are denied admittance to the Cinema Theatre and other corner establishments because of that physical trait.”
But these private businesses were not on campus, Chancellor Singletary noted. His power was limited, in this matter. In a meeting with the business owners, he conceded that and also stressed:
- “The chancellor is requesting unofficially that all students at the Woman’s College be served at the Corner eating places and admitted to the Cinema Theatre.
- If the present policy of segregation continues, it is likely that the students will resort to picketing and to a boycott. …”
Seeing no changes coming, many Woman’s College students mustered their collective power to ensure all Tate Street businesses were open to everyone.
A flyer was created, listing six contacts for those who wanted to picket: Alison Greenwald, Caroline Ulrey, Diane Oliver, Sina McGimpsey, Doris Johnston, and Beth Ingraham. Three were Black; three were White.
On May 15, 1963, the student legislature endorsed a resolution supporting the proposed selective buying campaign and student picketing of the three businesses. A front-page Carolinian piece reported that Anne Prince Cuddy, the Student Government president, said the situation at the Corner had come to a head and that the administration had used all its powers, yet had achieved no gains. She strongly urged that all students uphold their part in the resolution.
Change was in the air. As a column in The Carolinian said, “Now is the time for this college to take a stand.”
The May 16, 1963, Greensboro Daily News said picketing would take place on Tate Street from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 9 p.m. starting that day and would last one week, ending just before exams began.
Student newspaper writer Janet Hamer reported that the majority of students honored the boycott.
“It is a boycott by the students of this campus and by these students alone,” a May Carolinian editorial writer said. The last line of that editorial? “Eat at the Woman’s College Dining Hall. It’s integrated.”
The Daily News reported White and African-American women carrying signs reading “All WC Students Are Equal” and “Liberty and Justice For All.”
“We wore [our] WC blazers on the picket line – a group decision,” Beth Ingraham recalled. Students would come and relieve others so no one missed a class. About three dozen picketed, in total.
“I was spat on,” says Sina Reid. Beth Ingraham recalled “a woman coming and spitting in my face,” as well as slurs from drivers passing by.
“We were really scared,” Sylvia Eidem recalled. No rocks were thrown at the picketers, just occasional rotten eggs or tomatoes. Eidem knew she could not react.
Students waiting their turn to picket or just to show support would gather on the grassy hill at the Music Building. White supremacists held small counter-demonstrations, two picketers recalled.
Ultimately, the student boycotters and picketers, bolstered by the student government, were successful. An exact date for the integration of each business is hard to pin down, but in a report to the Board of Trustees in the fall of 1963, Anne Prince Cuddy noted that the situation had been “straightened out.”
Looking back at the successful boycott of 1963, Sina Reid offered this perspective. Compassion and empathetic understanding are a struggle – a struggle to love the ‘other,’ she explained. It’s a struggle she first encountered as a senior in high school, continuing during the Tate Street Boycott and throughout her life.
“Leaders like Gandhi and Martin Luther King,” she said, “taught us that we must always stand up to misuse and abuse.”
By Mike Harris and Lollie L. White, for UNCG Magazine
Photography of Sina McGimpsey Reid and 2015 event by Martin W. Kane. Photo taken at event held during Alumni Reunion in April 2015, in which she spoke about the Tate Street Boycott. The magazine staff would like to include the name of each person in the group photo. If you recognize someone who is not wearing a name tag, please email email@example.com.
Note: Much of this web post relies on the Fall 2010 UNCG Magazine article “Turning the Corner on Tate Street.” Watch for the Spring 2022 issue in April, in which we’ll catch up with two figures in the article, Sina McGimpsey Reid and Anne Prince Cuddy.