Looking back at the lunch counter sit-ins and how they spread

Fifty years ago, the lunch counter sit-ins began in Greensboro, N. C. Writing in the Virginian-Pilot, Denise Watson Batts describes how the movement quickly spead to Virginia, where 17-year-old Ed Rodman, now an Episcopal priest and professor at Episcopal Divinity School, found himself at the center of the storm:

In Portsmouth, I.C. Norcom [high School] students crossed the street to Rose’s 5-10-25 Cents Store on the same day that the protests began in Norfolk.

Eighteen took seats. Waitresses ignored them, but they didn’t budge.

They went to MidCity Shopping Center on Monday and faced a few hecklers.

Tuesday afternoon, they arrived at Rose’s and found the counter occupied by white teens.

Rodman filled with dread. Things often got heated when students from Wilson, the nearby white school, and Norcom, the black school, crossed paths.

This time was no different. The crowd, on the verge of becoming a mob, spilled into the parking lot. The white students pulled out hammers and pipes. A black teen got slammed in the face with a chain, and a girl was hit with a street sign.

A group of black teens grabbed a chain and beat a knot of white students.

The fights ended quickly, and Rodman found himself the spokesman for the Norcom students.

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