JCSU alumni describe impact of their lunch counter sit-ins in Charlotte

CHARLOTTE — For many Black Americans, the sit-in movement helped usher in a new sense of pride during the Civil Rights Movement.

On April, 1 1960, 24 students from Burke High School in Charleston staged a sit-in at the segregated Kress and Co. lunch counter. They were refused service, but remained seated. Police arrested the students just before the store closed.

But two months before the sit-ins in Charleston, dozens of brave students from Johnson C. Smith University took part in sit-ins at eight “whites-only” lunch counters across Charlotte.

Channel 9′s Erika Jackson sat down with Barbara Funderburk and Mary Anna Neal Bradley, two of the women who took part in the movement. The pair looked through their JCSU yearbook to reminisce on their college years. Though some of their most prominent memories didn’t make the cut, they did make their mark on U.S. history.

“I didn’t realize it was such a big thing. I just thought it was an injustice,” Bradley said.

Bradley and Funderburk graduated from West Charlotte High School, one of Charlotte’s all-Black schools until the late 1960s. They remember using separate water fountains and separate restrooms from their white peers. They sat in the back of public transportation while white people sat in the front seats.

“You always were asked to move to the back like a bunch of cattle,” Funderburk said. “Things like this, I thought about and I said I’m going to go participate.”

In February 1960, the women learned their classmate, Charles Jones, wanted to follow in the footsteps of civil rights leaders in Greensboro by sitting down at segregated lunch counters in Charlotte.

“They will go to these different meetings ... and [learn] ways of finding out ways to protest, have a protest, and do it peacefully,” Bradley said.

The buttoned-up young women remember becoming bold when they opted to join the demonstrations.

“We found out that all you had to do was be quiet and sit there and get in there,” Bradley said.

Funderburk and Bradley tell me organizers would plan their march the night prior. Then, they joined more than 100 students walking from the JCSU campus to Uptown Charlotte.

“By the time we got down there, they would know we will come and so they would take the seats, they would have taken them all. So that didn’t work. So they decided different people would take us down in cars,” Bradley said.

Their protests helped lead to the desegregation of lunch counters in Charlotte.

The women told Jackson they worry the country will regress if schools don’t teach about moments like these in history.

“The kids really don’t know what we came through and how they could build on that to improve themselves,” Funderburk said.

(WATCH BELOW: Local, Black-owned catering company built by family of entrepreneurs)