MARCH 16, 1960

Sit-in at McCrory’s, March 23, 1961

Inspired by the Greensboro sit-in a month earlier, Black students staged sit-ins at whites-only lunch counters in eight downtown stores in Savannah, Georgia. 

Students Carolyn Quilloin Coleman, Joan Tyson Hall and Ernest Robinson stepped into Levy’s Department Store, shopping before entering the segregated Azalea Room. The server ordered them to leave, but they attempted to order anyway. Police hauled them to jail, where they sang, “We Shall Overcome.” 

Robinson recalled looking at his hand where he scrawled the words of a Psalm: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” 

“That verse uplifted us,” Coleman told the Savannah Morning News. “We were very familiar with what had happened to Emmett Till, a 14-year-old student who was killed in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a White girl across the street. While we thought that we were safe in Savannah, we knew that anything could happen.” 

In response, Black leaders W.W. Law, Hosea Williams and Eugene Gadsden organized a boycott of city businesses and led voter registration drives that brought changes to city government. Seven months later, Savannah repealed its ordinance requiring segregated lunch counters. The boycott continued until all facilities were desegregated in October 1963. Months later, Martin Luther King Jr. arrived to hail the passing of Jim Crow ways. 

The Levy’s Department Store building now houses the Savannah College of Art and Design’s Jen Library, and a historic marker now honors the protestors fight for freedom.

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.