60 years later: TSU student who organized sit-in to help end Jim Crow laws recalls the history-making moment

John Bland
John Bland (KPRC)

HOUSTON – Wednesday marks 60 years since an act of non-violent protest that would lead to the end of the Jim Crow era in Houston.

On March 4, 1960, a group of 13 students from Texas Southern University led the first sit-in in the city. They took over a Weingarten’s grocery store lunch counter that refused to serve black people.

"There was a lot going on down south and we said, ‘why not here?'’', said 79-year-old John Bland, who was one of the young leaders of the movement.

Bland recalled that day, his fellow students singing as they marched to the store on Almeda, where a post office now sits.

“We were feeling a little scared, a little frightened, but the more you got involved, the more excited you got and your fear just went away. We all sat and occupied the stools, they refused to serve us and we stayed there for an hour,” he said.

Bland said the next day, Weingarten’s grocery store took the seats off the stools so no one could sit.

“They basically had to close their lunch counter,” he said.

That first sit-in, led to others across the city.

"We hit the Ralston drugstores and we were able to negotiate to hire black clerks. Then we said why not downtown, so we moved to Grant's, Woolworth's and the theaters," Bland said.

The peaceful student protesters eventually spent time in jail after facing store managers who called the police.

“He said, ‘arrest those...,’ I don’t want to say the word,” Bland recalled.

Bland said he is proud of the work he did to push forward the Civil Rights movement in Houston and says he hopes today’s youth continue the fight.

“We’ve come a long way but baby, we got a long way to go,” he said.

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