This is the second post in our “Then & Now” series in which we highlight an example of business-related discrimination in Black history and pair it with a similar event(s) during our modern day. We share these comparisons to demonstrate the continuing fight for Black justice after the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Despite popular conceptions of America existing as a “post-racial” society, racism lives—and thrives–to this day, representing the need to further our pursuit of equity for all.
Then & Now: Dining Racism
In addition to retail racism, Black patrons have specifically faced discrimination in dining situations, including at restaurants, coffee shops, and other establishments. Some of the earliest demonstrations during the Civil Rights Movement took place at lunch counters at popular chain stores. A famous example began on February 1, 1960, at the Greensboro, North Carolina, Woolworth, a former general-merchandise chain with stores across America. Four Black men studying at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NCA&T)—Ezell Blair Jr., Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond—sat down at Woolworth’s “whites only” lunch counter and ordered coffee and donuts but were refused service. While they expected to be arrested, the four students were, for the most part, left alone and stayed until the store closed.
The following day, Blair, McCain, McNeil, and Richmond were joined by other protesters; this second sit-in was covered by the local newspaper and television station. On February 3, the demonstration grew, with more than 60 students taking turns occupying every seat at Woolworth’s lunch counter. The momentum continued into February 4 and reached close to 300 protesters, including women and white students.
This series of sit-ins at the Greensboro Woolworth jump-started a number of demonstrations to combat segregation, such as picket lines, boycotts, and other sit-ins. The Ku Klux Klan eventually became involved with the Woolworth sit-in and harassed protesters in hopes of deterring them. However, the demonstration only grew stronger, as the NCA&T football team joined the effort, as well as organizers for the Congress of Racial Equality, who helped train the students in tactics of nonviolent resistance.
Several months later, Woolworth and other chains agreed to serve all customers at their lunch counters, marking one of the first major successes in desegregation (other than the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case a few years prior, which desegregated public schools). Much like retail racism, though, insidious forms of racial discrimination persist to this day at dining establishments. In 2019, for instance, Black Starbucks customer Lorne Green was targeted the moment he walked into the Brandon, Florida, coffee shop and went to the restroom. Starbucks staff incessantly knocked on the restroom door, asking if he needed the help of “fire rescue,” at which point he called the company’s corporate line and reported the incident.
Uncomfortable, Green eventually left the Starbucks, but not without being issued a trespassing ticket from deputies called to the coffee shop. Although Green was able to team up with an attorney to try to have the citation dropped, this incident represents racial profiling at its worst. Moreover, Green’s case resembles an incident in 2018 during which two Black men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, were arrested after asking to use the restroom at a Philadelphia Starbucks.
These examples highlight the continuing fight for racial justice, even at businesses like Starbucks that claim to have a “zero-tolerance policy” for discrimination. That’s why the Inclusive Guide is necessary—to help users navigate coffee shops and restaurants, among other businesses, safely and comfortably. On the business side, Inclusive Journeys plans to offer diversity, equity, and inclusion training and resources to companies, whether they be coffee giant Starbucks or a local business, so that their employees can help cultivate an inclusive environment for patrons of all identities.
Join us as we strive to stop racism at coffee shops, restaurants, and other dining establishments. Sign up to review businesses at inclusiveguide.com, and consider donating to our project at gofundme.com/f/digital-green-book-website.
“2 Philadelphia men in Starbucks controversy speak out.” FOX 13 Tampa Bay, 19 April 2018, fox13news.com/news/2-philadelphia-men-in-starbucks-controversy-speak-out. Accessed 1 Feb. 2022.
“Civil Rights Movement History 1960.” Civil Rights Movement Archive, crmvet.org/tim/timhis60.htm#1960greensboro. Accessed 1 Feb. 2022.
“Man says he was kicked out of Brandon Starbucks because he’s black.” FOX 13 Tampa Bay, 9 May 2019, fox13news.com/news/man-says-he-was-kicked-out-of-brandon-starbucks-because-hes-black. Accessed 1 Feb. 2022.