In September 1958, Gladys Twine, a teacher and member of the Twin Citians Social Club for Black women, expressed her frustration to the club that she could spend hundreds of dollars at the department stores in downtown Kansas City, yet was refused service at their lunch counters.
While downtown department stores desegregated in the early 1950s, the stores still prohibited Black customers from eating in the department stores’ restaurants.
Twine suggested that the Twin Citians create a project to challenge the stores’ policy. Carolyn Ruth Kerford, president of the Twin Citians club, appointed Twine to organize the actions the club could take.
Lucile Bluford, reporter at the Kansas City Call, attended one of the Twin Citian meetings and suggested they reach out to other Black clubs and organizations for support. Following Bluford’s advice, the Twin Citians wrote letters to other local clubs who also were on board.
The Community Committee for Social Action made up of the Twin Citians and other Black social clubs and citizens was formed in November 1958 to begin boycotting and picketing the five major department stores downtown: Macy’s, Jones’ Store, Kline’s, Peck’s, and Emery, Bird, Thayer.
Julia Hill, a teacher and later the first woman elected to the local NAACP, was named vice president of the picketing committee for the CCSA, working alongside Twine, Kerford and other CCSA members, drawing much of their inspiration from the 1955 Montgomery, AL, bus boycott.
The CCSA’s first step was collecting protest letters from Black customers and presenting them to store managers, but the policy still did not change. Then on Dec. 19, 1958, CCSA members and community members began picketing in front of the stores, holding signs saying, “We protest racial discrimination in the serving of the customers in the cafeteria or restaurant of this store.”
Picketers held up their signs every day, despite the holidays and freezing temperatures. Naomi C. Dillard, a community activist, who walked the picket lines downtown said the largely women-led movement was incredibly inclusive, welcoming activists from all over the community.
“Everybody respected each other,” Dillard said. “In fact, most of those ladies were ladies who were respected in the community, and they were so intelligent. People knew that they stood for something.”
Edith Haney-Galvin was just ten years old when she began walking the picket line downtown.
“Non-violence is the best method,” Haney-Galvin said. “That was always the way Martin Luther King Jr. did it, and that’s always been the way to win the movement.”
Sales at the stores began dropping and the CCSA continued picketing until Feb. 1959, when they began planning a mass march of more than 1,000 people if negotiations with the store managers failed.
Soon after they announced the mass march, Macy’s, Peck’s and Kline’s agreed to open their dining facilities, then Jones’ Store and EBT opened their dining facilities to Black customers two months later.
The CCSA picketing campaign eventually influenced restaurant sit-ins across the Great Plains and Deep South, including the Louisville drugstore lunch counter sit-ins in 1959, according to the Global Nonviolent Action Database.
In the documentary, “18th and Vine: A People’s Journey,” Bluford said, “The CCSA had achieved a significant victory and our fight for equality would go forward and be echoed throughout the nation.”
Jazzlyn Johnson is a Report for America corps member based at The Community Voice covering Kansas City’s African-American community.