Eight men and women who participated in the civil rights movement told a crowd of students, including current Hampton University students, at the Hampton History Museum that while nonviolent and relatively undramatic, the sit-in and events that follow made an impact.
"We just very quietly were ignored and they let us sit there as long as we wanted," said Alease Rainy Gant, who participated in sit-ins in her hometown of Newport News. "We would change people to sit in the chairs. After some years, I guess, some time, it was integrated. It was very peaceful, nobody tried to jerk us up or dump tomato ketchup on us. I think probably because we were a more cosmopolitan city than some of the other Deep South cities. ... There were a lot of supportive whites in town who supported our efforts, so I think that made a big difference for the movement."
After the sit-in on West Queen Street in Feb. 1960, held nine days after the first one in Greensboro, N.C., students spread out and sat in white-only sections of movie theaters, refused to patronize drugstores and helped register voters.
"We had everything (on campus). We had movies, girls, we had it all," John Hamlette, who graduated from the institute in 1961, said, as his wife Gloria laughed beside him. "And so, it was hard for us to leave that security. I just want to put this thing in perspective. ... That's important because when you start talking about students leaving that security and going and doing something that was totally out of character, it took a lot of courage."
The panelists recalled what it felt like to have to visit segregated beaches and to sit at separate lunch counters.
Voting is another way to keep the movement's impact alive, John Hamlette said. His wife said that education and spreading what she and the other panelists went through is key.
"I think we have to tell our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren," Gloria Hamlette said. "We have to let them know that everything has not always been the way it is now. We have to tell them about the second- and third-hand books that we studied from, our 'separate but equal,' which was not true. We have to let them know that they built two new junior high schools right down the street within walking distance, but they were just for whites. ...
"We have to let them know that what they have did not come without a price."