Sixty years ago, in the summer of 1958, two dozen students from Wichita staged what would become the first successful student-led lunch counter sit-in of the Civil Rights movement.
By August 11, 1958, they had desegregated the Dockum Drug Store lunch counter in Wichita, Kansas, and all Rexall Drug Stores throughout the State of Kansas. The protest began on July 19, 1958 in downtown Wichita at the Dockum Drug Store, making this year the 60th anniversary of the historic event.
“It’s particularly inspiring to know such an influential piece of history, led by a group of determined young people, took place so early on in the Civil Rights movement right here in Wichita,” said Susie Santo, president and CEO of Visit Wichita.
Ron Walters, then president of the local youth chapter of the NAACP, led the Wichita sit-in efforts, which sparked a similar demonstration in Oklahoma City in 1959 and several others before the well-known Greensboro, N.C., sit-in took place in 1960. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Walters was instrumental in helping develop the framework for the Congressional Black Caucus, which formed in 1969.
The Wichita we know today was not the same in the 1950s. Much of downtown was segregated. African Americans were not allowed to eat in the same restaurants as Caucasian Americans or allowed to use the same recreational spaces, such as swimming pools.
Wichita took 18 years to desegregate their schools after Brown v. Board of Education passed in 1954, but the students who participated in the 1958 sit-in didn’t wait that long to address segregation.
Black students, one by one, would come and sit at the Dockum lunch counter and refuse to move until they were served. Protesters would sit at the counter all day until the store closed, ignoring taunts from counter-protesters. The sit-in ended three weeks later when the owner relented and agreed to serve black patrons. After months of protesting and the three-week sit-in, they were served at an all-white lunch counter.
When the Dockum Drug Store sit-in first happened in July 1958, few newspapers printed details about it, and to this day, it is still relatively unknown.
According to The Kansas African American Museum, the Dockum sit-in of 1958 is considered the first successful student led sit-in, happening about 19 months before the ones in Greensboro, which most people are most familiar with today.
To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Dockum sit-in, The Kansas African American Museum is hosting a program and commemorative march, starting at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 11, from A. Price Woodard Park at 401 W. Douglas Ave. to Chester I. Lewis Reflection Square Park at 205 W. Douglas Ave. in downtown Wichita.
Today, there is a drugstore counter sculpture in Chester I. Lewis Reflection Square Park, and the Ambassador Hotel Wichita now sits where the historic Dockum Drug Store once was, complete with a speakeasy named Dockum tucked in the basement.