Call them social revolutionaries, freedom fighters or trouble makers, but to the Texas Southern University students who defiantly marched over a mile to a grocery store lunch counter to initiate Houston’s first sit-in, they were just ordinary people who wanted to be treated like citizens. Their story of courage and struggle, like TSU’s story, is one we should not soon forget.
Some would simply paint the TSU students as agitators, but I would argue that they were modern day American heroes who championed civil rights and played a vital role in silencing Houston’s Jim Crow laws. Jim Crow was a phrase used to describe a system of Southern laws that denied blacks basic rights. These laws were strongly enforced between 1896 to 1964.
With little more than a burning desire for immediate social change, these young justice seekers began a crusade on Friday, March 4, 1960 to protest the unfair treatment of Houston’s African-Americans.
From a flag pole on TSU’s campus 13 students that grew to 17 met. They lined up in pairs and marched 45 minutes to their destination — 4110 Almeda Road, Weingarten’s Supermarket. As the students marched, they sang several black spirituals and other young men and women along the path joined in their crusade for justice and equality. They arrived at 4:30 p.m. with a simple objective –to be served at the lunch counter. However, for hours the students sat quietly—never to be served.
However, just as American soldiers stand at the ready on the frontline staving off impending international threats to the preservation of the civil peace that Americans hold so dear today, the TSU students stood undaunted by the barrage of racially charged insults flung at them like shrapnel filled grenades.
Now 50 years after that fateful March day, how much progress has this city made in race relations?
The numbers don’t tell a very promising story.
While the African-American middle class has grown, the U.S. Census says that a black household earned 46.4 percent of what a white household earned in 2008. And a significant number of black youth continue to drop out of high school when compared to white youth. Also, unemployment rates amongst blacks are higher than any other racial group. The statistics should be of great concern.
It’s apparent that Houston’s African-American community is nowhere near the promised land that so many envisioned 50 years ago. It’s seems as though the lessons of 50 years ago have been forgotten along the journey.
However, today a Texas Historic Marker was placed at the site of that first sit-in and perhaps it can serve as a daily reminder of what these heroic TSU students did 50 years ago and what we should do to reclaim the dream of a better way of life…an American dream that some even died for.
Serbino Sandifer-Walker DEFENDER