Oct. 19, 1960

Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested along with students after thousands conducted mass sit-ins at Rich’s Department Store and other Atlanta stores, causing 16 segregated lunch counters to shut down. 

The students, led by Lonnie C. King and Julian Bond, denounced segregation as contrary to democracy, only to have Georgia’s governor accuse them of breeding “dissatisfaction, discontent, discord and evil,” speculating that communists were behind this movement. 

One of the main targets of the protests: Rich’s Magnolia Room, where white customers could try on clothing, use white-only washrooms and sit at a table in the Magnolia Room. Black customers, however, could not try on clothing or enter. 

The judge in the case sentenced King to four months in prison. “King was thought to be in grave danger after a manacled, late-night transfer from an Atlanta jail to a remote rural facility in Klan-infested DeKalb County, and soon thereafter to the state’s notorious maximum-security prison in Reidsville,” The New York Times wrote. Bobby Kennedy, who was working as campaign manager for his brother, John F. Kennedy, reached out to the judge and asked for him to release King on bail. The judge did so. 

“The Race to Save Martin Luther King Jr.’s Life and Win the 1960 Election” by Stephen and Paul Kendrick focuses on this event and the role it played in helping Kennedy get elected. When civil rights leaders were unable to reach an agreement with Atlanta’s business and city leaders, students resumed protests the day after Thanksgiving. By fall 1961, Rich’s began to desegregate.

More on this day


Something went wrong. Please refresh the page and/or try again.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Take our 2023 reader survey

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.