In February 1960, students attending Virginia Union University took direct action to combat racially motivated inequality. Inspired by a visit from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, student activists brought the Civil Rights Movement to Richmond to confront local segregation.

More than 200 students marched from Virginia Union University to take a seat at the segregated lunch counter of Thalhimers and Woolworths.  They brought biology textbooks and world literature to study.  They wore suits and pearl necklaces.  A group of hecklers formed around the protesters – some waving confederate flags and others spitting or shouting insults.

Thirty-four Virginia Union University students were arrested, charged with trespassing, and taken to jail.  They were later convicted and fined  But the students could not be stopped – they formed picket lines outside the department stores, forcing patrons to decide whether they would continue to support segregated businesses.  Crumbling to pressure, the stores subsequently desegregated.

The students who were arrested – the Richmond 34 – all appealed their court decisions.  The case moved to the Virginia Supreme Court and then to the US Supreme Court where the convictions were finally overturned.  The next year, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed.  It outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.


Source: Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia