HOUSTON, TX (KTRK) — A group of students attending Texas Southern University did the unthinkable by marching and sitting at an all-white segregated lunch counter at a grocery store. Now, 62 years later, two of them sat down with ABC13’s Melanie Lawson to remember the move.
Loretta Williams and Dorothea Henry-Miller have known each other for most of their lives, but they formed a bond during the civil rights movement.
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Williams, then a TSU freshman, and Henry-Miller, then a 22-year senior, marched with other protesters a mile from campus to the Weingartners supermarket on Almeda in Houston. They went in, sat down and asked for service.
“Usually we were asked to leave. We weren’t served. We didn’t belong there. You know, they didn’t want to serve us. And we just had to ignore them when they asked us to leave,” said Henry Miller.
They said law student Eldrewy Stearns told them to dress up and ignore the threats and insults being hurled at them. Stearns is credited with helping plan the protests.
“You know, they said to go back to Africa. Some people would say things like that,” Williams said.
They were young but saw that the world was changing. Black students in North Carolina were already ahead, holding the first sit-ins at a whites-only counter, and students at TSU wanted to do the same.
And it didn’t stop there. The students walked all over the city, including a stop at City Hall, taking turns and sitting quietly at the food counters. Carrying signs with etched words calling for the end of segregation.
Henry-Miller and Williams chose a different location to demonstrate: the lunch counter at the Union Pacific train station. Shortly after they sat down, both were arrested.
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“I wasn’t scared,” explained Henry Miller. “I was worried about our safety, but I wasn’t scared because every time we demonstrated, there were reporters and some security guards on cameras recording everything.”
After the arrests, many churches and black businesses would rescue the students and help them find legal aid.
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Although they fought for equality, their parents didn’t think the same.
“Mine were very proud, my parents,” Williams said.
“It wasn’t my mother. She didn’t want to involve me because she feared for our safety. She had seen what was happening in other parts of the country, you know, with dog pigs, water hoses, police brutality and everything, and mother didn’t want that to happen to me,” Henry-Miller said.
Although most of that violence was unseen in Houston, they were well aware of the danger they faced, but that didn’t stop the movement.
“I think we did our part in Houston and other young people in the United States did the same. So I think, all of us, I’ve been very instrumental in making changes. I think if we hadn’t done it, the changes wouldn’t have been made,” said Henry Miller.
Most Houston businesses were desegregated in the late 1960s. That was in part because black leaders secretly met with white businessmen, but that wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the student-led protests.
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https://abc13.com/abc13-vault-houstons-first-sit-in-demonstration-civil-rights-movement/12283934/ ABC13 VAULT: Melanie Lawson talks to 2 students from the Weingarten supermarket for the 62nd anniversary