Texas Southern University students’ heroic role in ending segregation remembered

HOUSTON – Texas Southern University has experienced decades of impactful history in the more than 90 years since its founding. One moment in particular that stands out is TSU sit-in.

On March 4, 1960, several students from TSU held the first sit-in in Houston at a Weingarten’s grocery store lunch counter, which ultimately played a role in ending segregation across the city. While many Houston residents are unfamiliar with the story, those who know TSU’s history said it should be taught.

Image of Weingarten's from the KPRC 2 archives. The restaurant is where TSU students first held a sit-in protesting segregation. (KPRC/Click2Houston.com)
Weingarten's restaurant shut down its lunch counter initially as a response to the TSU sit-in (KPRC/Click2Houston.com)

Dexter Maryland, a graduating senior and the Student Government Association president, shared his knowledge of the school’s history after reading the book Born to Serve: A History of Texas Southern University by Merline Pitre.

“It really makes me proud to be at TSU,” Maryland said,” I think that we have a different story. So, a lot of other universities were birthed out of something else, but we were truly birthed out of oppression and racism. So, to know that a university birthed out of oppression and racism can create something like this. It really just fuels advocacy and then also determination in me.”

The TSU sit-ins made it possible for Black Houstonians to be treated equally in businesses and at work.

Sixty-three years later, the University continues to make strides. It has more than 100 innovative programs and centers, 10 schools and colleges, and more than 10 thousand students have enrolled in the historic Third Ward institution.

“I think we’re going in the right direction,” Maryland said. “But my hope is that it’s with pure intentions. After the George Floyd incident, we did see a surge in wanting HBCU students, wanting that diversity curve, but that comes with wanting to learn as well. I even did an internship in a diversity role, and there were times when it was just for the numbers,” Maryland said.

The pioneering TSU students hoped to pave a better path for future generations.

“Their work did pay off because it allows us to be encouraged to not take no for an answer,” Maryland said. “We can advocate for ourselves both on our campus and within our community. So, they not only shaped the culture of TSU but also the students to come.”

Dexter Maryland, TSU Student Government President (KTSU2News)

The impact of students from TSU has touched the hearts of many, including those who teach at the University.

Serbino Sandifer-Walker, a TSU journalism professor and assistant dean, interacted with several of the 1960 sit-in protesters. She has written extensively about the sit-in movement.

“When I think about what they did, it also makes me think of the beauty of Texas Southern University.” she said, “This is an inspirational institution; this is an empowering institution. This is an institution where people persevered so that I could get an education.”

Texas Southern University Campus (KTSU2News)

Sandifer-Walker said the TSU students understood the meaning of the phrase “a more perfect union,” written in the U.S. Constitution’s preamble.

“The Texas Southern University students taught us an invaluable lesson in democracy,” Sandifer-Walker said.

TSU Professor Serbino Sandifer-Walker and multi-media student journalist Zoria Goodley (KTSU2News)

Across the United States, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), including TSU, have been historically underfunded in comparison to predominantly white institutions (PWIs). As a result, several have questioned whether students at each type of institution are given the same financial opportunities.

“Do we have some of the same financial opportunities?” Sandifer-Walker said, “We do not because we have been historically underfunded. But we do not give up. We persist. We find a way; we make things happen in our community. The state of Texas and the United States of America need to understand this institution’s significance and importance.”

A Texas Historical Marker now stands at 4110 Almeda, where that first sit-in was held, reminding this city of the heroic role those TSU students played in making Houston a more just community and living up to the school’s motto of “excellence in achievement.”

“Those pioneering students were brave and courageous,” Sandifer-Walker said. “They should never be forgotten.”

Historic marker at site of Houston's first sit-in (KTSU2News)


In Houston in 1960, protests against segregation happened in restaurants. This sit-in occurred at Woolworth's. (KPRC/Click2Houston.com)
In 1960 outside Houston City Hall, demonstrators held signs calling for an end to desegregation. (KPRC/Click2Houston.com)
In 1960 outside Houston City Hall, demonstrators held signs calling for an end to desegregation. (KPRC/Click2Houston.com)
In 1960 outside Houston City Hall, demonstrators held signs calling for an end to desegregation. (KPRC/Click2Houston.com)
In 1960 outside Houston City Hall, demonstrators held signs calling for an end to desegregation. (KPRC/Click2Houston.com)