World Coffee Press

A Chicago coffee shop sit-in foreshadowed passive resistance

Martin Luther King Jr. Monument

Find out how a coffee shop was the scene for one of the first instances of passive resistance and how it became a key tactic during the civil rights movement.

In 1942, a number of people congregated together at the Jack Spratt Coffee House in Chicago and opened up a key chapter in the history of the civil rights movement.

Yet at the time America, and the world, took little notice.

‘If we were lucky, there might be a small paragraph…saying, in effect that a few nuts and crackpots sat in a restaurant until there were served, or thrown out, or the place closed,’ James Farmer recalled in his memoirs about the impact the tactic would have had in the media.

James Farmer, an organiser for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, was one of the twenty-eight who headed down to the Chicago café and he believed that the group’s commitment to pacifism would be a key weapon to combat segregation. The coffeehouse in question had, at the time, a policy of only serving whites.

The group of young Chicagoans – black and white – went to the restaurant and, as expected, the African-Americans were refused service. Unanimously, the twenty-eight rejected proposals put forwards by management that they should dine downstairs and out-of-sight. They simply stayed put.

The police refused to move on the group as they acknowledged that Farmers and his friends had not broken any Illinois law. Shortly afterwards Jack Spratt and his Coffee House revered his anti-black policies.

This was at a time when World War II dominated the globe and America fighting to secure democracy abroad, refused to allow African-Americans equal-rights.

During that movement in 1942, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was organised and later on CORE would play an integral role in the battle for equality and the civil rights movement. The non-violent tactic of passive resistance spread around the country, coming into national psyche during the Montgomery bus boycott thanks, in part, to Martin Luther King Jr.  

photo: Ron Cogswell (Flickr), used under Creative Commons

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