CHATTANOOGA (WDEF) – A participant of the Howard Sit ins during the Civil Rights era has passed away.
74 year old Virgil Roberson died as his home last Wednesday.
The Howard sit in was unusual for the time, because it wasn’t organized by adults or college students.
This action was conceived, organized and carried out by local high school students, many of which didn’t even tell their parents about it.
Virgil Roberson was one of them.
“When we were students at Howard we couldn’t go to the movies. We had to sit in the back of the bus. We couldn’t drink, we had separate water fountains. We had separate restrooms. We couldn’t go to Warner Park.”
On February 19, 1960 as many as a couple of hundred students took part in sitting in at white’s-only counters at four downtown businesses.
“We went in Woolworth’s, and they closed that store and made everybody leave. We went in McClellans and were able to sit down, but they didn’t serve us.”
The students sat with a space in between them.
And when they were refused service, they stayed seated, reading school books and the Bible.
As it went on, crowds formed outside the lunch counters.
Eventually, the counters shut down, and sent the students out into the streets and the crowds.
The students returned for more protests in April.
Then in August, local ministers negotiated with merchants to allow African American patrons to eat at several downtown lunch counters.
In recent years, Roberson often spoke to students about Chattanooga’s biggest protest of the Civil Rights era.
“We didn’t set out to make history. We set out to cause the city to think about the rules.”
“It’s not in the history books, but this is a personal history.”
Visitation for Virgil Roberson will be Friday from 6:30-7:30 at the Franklin P. Franklin Funeral Home.
The funeral service will be Saturday at noon at First Baptist Church on East 8th Street.
Newly discovered photographs from outside of the protests show the impact.
Students were arrested and officials used fire hoses on protesters to break it up.
The photos are Courtesy of the Chattanooga History Center and Picnooga.