MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The historically black university where students launched Alabama’s first sit-in against racial segregation is marking the 60th anniversary of the protest with three days of events.
Five of the surviving demonstrators were set be on hand Monday for a remembrance at Alabama State University in Montgomery. The attorney who represented the students, civil rights lawyer Fred Gray of Tuskegee, also will participate, according to the school.
Alabama State, a center of activity during the civil rights era, also will host events through Wednesday, including a panel discussion of elected officials and a presentation of scholarly papers about the sit-in and its legacy.
A student sit-in began on Feb. 25, 1960 at the Montgomery County Courthouse snack bar, where 35 black women and men asked to be served in defiance of the city’s segregation law. The protesters, mostly Alabama State students, were inspired in part by the Greensboro four, who started the sit-ins campaign at a lunch counter in North Carolina that Feb. 1.
The Alabama sit-in participants weren’t arrested, Gray said in an interview. But then-Gov. John Patterson, a segregationist, made Alabama State discipline any students who participated by threatening its state funding. Nine students identified as leaders were kicked out of school.
“I didn’t understand how I could be expelled when I was doing what I was taught at school,” sit-in participant St. John Dixon, 82, said Monday during a phone interview. Dixon now lives near San Francisco.
The students filed a federal lawsuit that resulted in an appeals court decision that said the students were improperly punished, Gray said.
“The importance was the lawsuit established that students at a state-supported school couldn’t be disciplined without due process,” Gray said. “This was during the civil rights period, so that encouraged other civil rights protests.”
In 2018, the state apologized to the demonstrators and expunged expulsions from academic records.