Kress Demonstration 1960

Location: W. Evans near S. Dargan Street, Florence, SC 29501

This location is where junior and high school students carried out a sit-in as part of the Civil Rights Movement. While most people think of sit-ins at lunch counters elsewhere, this one happened right here in Florence, South Carolina. 

The sit-in movement sought to end segregation at white owned establishments. The Kress Demonstration took place over two days. Members of the local youth branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored (NAACP) people protested the segregated lunch counter at the S.H. Kress department store. Most of these students attended Wilson High School. 

John Wesley Miller, Jr. was Vice President of the NAACP youth branch and organized the demonstration at Kress on the third and fourth of March 1960. On the first day of the protest, over thirty students met at Trinity Baptist Church to prepare for a march to the department store and a sit-in at the lunch counter. Before the demonstration, they sent a protester to Kress by the name of Cecil Gunter because they believed that his lighter skin would get him served by the workers.To their dismay, he was denied service.

Not only did they deny him service, but they kicked Gunter out of the establishment. Twenty-five more students still partook in this demonstration. They entered through the Dargan Street door where they were met with workers saying, “Clear the counter. We’re not serving you.” The students stayed at the lunch counter even though the workers denied them service and asked them to leave. In order for the students to leave, the manager called the police and turned off the lights of the establishment.

The students were told to leave by the Chief of Police, Melvin D. Adams, and City Manager, Aaron March. The students returned to the store to see a closed building with trash cans replacing their seats. 

On March 4, more students joined the protest, making it over seventy participants. The young students created signs that they pinned to their shirts saying, “Our money is the same,” “Give us equality,” and “Full service or none.” They split into two groups before they had to reroute because of a barricaded Kress store. The police snatched the students’ signs from their clothing, often damaging their shirts and dresses. 

They were met with name-calling by bystanders and were taken to the Florence jail in pairs through the backdoor of the Kress store. They were peaceful, but policemen charged forty-eight students with “parading without a permit.” The police body searched the students, took their pictures, and questioned them after arriving at the jailhouse. After being held in the jailhouse for many hours, the police released the students around 1:00 a. m. on March 5 on a $100 total bond. 

The Florence Recorder’s Court first heard their case on April 20th. William Bennett and Matthew Perry were not a part of the NAACP, but they were attorneys who represented the students. Judge Charles C. McDonald convicted thirty-four students of “parading without permits,” and they were sentenced to a thirty-dollar fine. 

Their attorneys appealed the case, and the South Carolina Supreme Court determined the convictions of the students were wrongful, overturning McDonald’s earlier ruling. Though the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed the students’ convictions, the charges were not immediately dropped. There were still individuals charged in 1960 who had those charges on their records until late 2014 and 2020. 

The Kress demonstration sheds light on the measures Florence’s youth took to end segregation. 

If you’d like to learn more about how the Kress Demonstration impacted Florence, you can: