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Remembering Greensboro

There’s nothing overtly impressive about the section of a luncheonette counter placed behind glass in a corner of the National Museum of American History’s temporary gallery ("Treasures of American History," on display at the Air and Space Museum while the NMAH gets a makeover).The padded vinyl se...

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greensboro-lunch-counter_stools.jpg There’s nothing overtly impressive about the section of a luncheonette counter placed behind glass in a corner of the
National Museum of American History’s temporary gallery ( "Treasures of American History," on display at the Air and Space Museum while the NMAH gets a makeover).

The padded vinyl seats on the stools look a bit grubby, and there are scuff marks on the base of the counter where customers’ feet once fidgeted while they sipped their sodas.

But an object is rarely just what it appears to be on the surface – it has a narrative context that would often remain invisible without historians and curators to sleuth it out or guard its memory.

These humble chairs and counter, once part of the Woolworth’s luncheonette in Greensboro, N.C., became a stage for an important scene in the civil rights movement when four African American college students sat down in them on February 1, 1960. The students asked to be served – a direct challenge to the store’s custom of refusing counter service to non-whites (they were allowed to order food to go, but not welcome to eat there).
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