#TBT: Nashville's lunch counter sit-ins

50 years ago, the historic Nashville lunch counter sit-ins began. Here's what Congressman John Lewis and others had to say about it.

Road to desegregation

50 years ago, a historic Civil Rights movement began in Nashville. Hundreds of black Americans sat peacefully at lunch counters to protest segregation. Opposition to the movement was fierce, and violent. After months of demonstrations, Nashville slowly started desegregating its lunch counters and public facilities — becoming the first Southern city to take this step.

When President Barack Obama took the oath of office for the first time, Congressman John Lewis was there

On a commemorative envelope he signed for Lewis that day, Obama wrote "Because of you, John." That’s because Lewis, as a young man, was part of a unique group of Nashville college students who set out to change the world. They succeeded because they had right on their side, and also because they had the courage it took to stay the course even when their lives were on the line. “All together it was a moving feeling within me that I was sitting there demanding a God-given right, and my soul became satisfied that I was right in what I was doing. At the same time, it’s something deep down within me, moving me — that I could no longer be satisfied or go along with an evil system”, John Lewis | Future Congressman says to a crowd in Nashville, February 1960.

On May 10, six downtown stores opened their lunch counters to black customers for the first time

After weeks of secret negotiations between merchants and protest leaders, an agreement was finally reached during the first week of May. According to the agreement, small, selected groups of African Americans would order food at the downtown lunch counters on a day known in advance to the merchants. The merchants would prepare their employees for the event and instruct them to serve the customers without trouble. This arrangement would continue in a controlled manner for a couple of weeks and then all controls would be taken off, at which point the merchants and protest leaders would reconvene to evaluate the results. Also as part of the agreement, the media was to be informed of the settlement and requested to provide only accurate, non-sensational coverage.