The Sit-Ins: A Story of Creative and Strategic Struggle

Powerful Sit-Ins: Creative & Strategic Struggle

April 14, 2022

Behind an unassuming Woolworth’s storefront in Greensboro, NC, Civil Rights history was made on a February day in 1960. The story of that day, the movement it spawned, and its lasting impact are told at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. They are a DipJar customer whose cause and work deserve to be highlighted.

We learned about both when we spoke with Dillon Tyler, who has been with the Center since 2015. Calling him Tour Coordinator doesn’t begin to describe his work, as he also assists with bookkeeping, marketing efforts, various special projects, and — yes — giving tours to visitors from around the world.

[caption id="attachment_3827" align="aligncenter" width="457"]

International Civil Rights Center and Museum, Sit-In Counter

Photograph Credit: Mark Herboth, ArchDaily[/caption]

The museum opened on February 1, 2010, the 50th anniversary of the sit-in that marked a watershed moment in the movement for justice. Four freshmen from the North Carolina Agricultural & Technical College — known to history as the NC A&T Four — sat down at the whites-only Woolworth’s lunch counter. While their non-violent direct action wasn’t the first of its kind, it was the one that captured the attention of the nation.

It sparked thousands to participate in similar protests in 14 states to challenge racist Jim Crow laws and norms. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized these sit-ins as an “electrifying movement of Negro students [that] shattered the placid surface of campuses and communities across the South.”

The museum is located at the site where it all began, complete with the original lunch counter. It serves — in Tyler’s words, as a “teaching landmark” — but one that goes beyond the initial instance to explore discrimination in many other forms. This expansive view is something the Center will continue to develop as it looks to increase its size and scope in the future.

The International Civil Rights Center & Museum is an important site on the US Civil Rights Trail and is under consideration for nomination by the United States as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since its inception, the Center has provided interpretive tours and resources regarding the site and its meaning. These have been developed with the Center’s chief executive officer, John Swaine, and principal scholar, Will Harris of the University of Pennsylvania.

Tyler reinforced the importance of historical integrity for the Center, explaining that it takes more than three months to train docents, and outside guides, no matter their background, are not permitted. These tours have formed the backbone of the Center’s offerings, attracting more than 70,000 persons per year. The pandemic forced a reevaluation of how the Center engages with visitors, both in-person and virtually.

The development of a planned virtual tour — created to the same standards as the in-person version — was accelerated by COVID. Museum programming, which included films and lectures, was also moved online. Now, as restrictions ease and in-person usage increases, Tyler predicts the Center will once again be one of the main draws for downtown Greensboro.

To strengthen its position in the community, both near and far, the Center has partnerships with several organizations and corporations large and small. It is fortunate to fund itself stably through ticket sales, its gift shop, donations, space rentals, fundraising events, and corporate grants.

In February 2020, just before the 60th anniversary of the sit-in, donations were high, but they have naturally declined in the ensuing years as a consequence of the restrictions associated with the pandemic. But, that is poised to change. The annual Civil Rights Gala, typically held in February, will be held on July 25 this year, the anniversary of the desegregation of the lunch counter. Though shifted in time, this year’s event is expected to draw a record number of supporters, including Vice President Kamela Harris.

DipJar, too, has played a role in the continued success of the International Civil Rights Museum — in more ways than one. The Museum team saw one in action at another organization’s event and wanted to try it for themselves. They’d been using a tablet-based system, but it proved to be unwieldy in many situations, requiring people to manually enter their payment information. DipJars, set to $10, $20, and $50, allowed visitors to contribute easily. The $10 contribution funds a free student admission and is the most popular amount. DipJar demonstrated its value in fundraising, but another application also came to mind.

Admissions were also a pain point. It was time-consuming for Museum visitors to provide information. This was especially true when a school or tour group came to the Center. Each individual needed a ticket, so each individual had to enter their information, and this created a bottleneck.

Three additional DipJars, also set to $10, $20, and $50, allow visitors to pay their admission in one simple step. This approach has improved guest services by reducing the time it takes to accept payment and moving people to the reason for their visit so that they can see the space and exhibits.

As the International Civil Rights Center & Museum team looks forward, there are exciting developments on the horizon. The most important is a planned expansion. It has recently completed the acquisition of the entire city block on which the landmark building stands. This isn’t expansion for its own sake, however. It is to allow other important topics to be covered, some dealing with the international aspects of the struggle for human rights.

“The expansion isn’t just about more space,” Tyler explained, “it’s about telling more stories.” DipJar is pleased to be supporting the Center and its mission.


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