Visible Resistance: Civil Rights Photographs

Students at the Woolworth's lunch counter on the second day of the sit-in, Greensboro, North Carolina

Students at the Woolworth's lunch counter on the second day of the sit-in, Greensboro, North Carolina. UPI photo, 1960 Feb. 2.

On February 1, 1960, four young men sat down at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, and ordered coffee and doughnuts.  More than fifty years later, this may not seem like a daring act, but it was.  First the waitress and then the store manager explained that the lunch counter was reserved for white people and that they could not serve the four freshmen from the nearby Agricultural & Technical College, because they were African American.

The four men– Ezell Blair, Jr., Franklin McCain, David Richmond, and Joseph McNeil–refused to leave, and the next day fellow students joined the sit-in. As news of the protest spread, African Americans sat down at segregated lunch counters elsewhere in the South, and picketers demonstrated in front of Woolworth stores in New York City, even though segregation was not practiced at their lunch counters.

One-man demonstration at a closed lunch counter in Nashville

One-man demonstration at a closed lunch counter in Nashville. UPI photo, 1960 March 25.

Protest by ministers

Protest by ministers. AP photo, 1960.

Photographs of the sit-ins distributed by the news wire services convey the resolve of the students, the hostile reaction they endured, as well as the impact on lunch counter business.  The images helped raise  awareness of racial injustice and growing resistance to it.  Today they offer a continuing reminder of the many individual acts of courage that made up the Civil Rights movement.

Civil rights march on Washington, D.C.

Civil rights march on Washington, D.C. Photo by Warren K. Leffler for U.S News & World Report, 1963 Aug. 28.

Our pictorial collections document many events of the Civil Rights era.  We have digitized quite a few of the images, and  hundreds more can be viewed with an on-site visit.  Because of rights considerations, many digitized images from the period display only in small size outside Library of Congress buildings, but we also have images that have no known restrictions on publication, with digital images that can be seen in greater detail from anywhere.  We have assembled a selection of such images in our reference aid, “The Civil Rights Era in the U.S. News & World Report Photographs Collection: A Select List .”

As we begin African American History Month, we hope that the pictures and many other resources of the Library of Congress offer an opportunity to learn and to reflect.

Learn more:


Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.