African American History: Lunch Counter Closed

Essential Questions

What strategies did the Civil Rights Movement employ in its efforts to end segregation? Were they effective? How so?



In this lesson, students watch a clip from the episode Woolworth Sign in which they learn about the use of sit-ins and nonviolence in the Civil Rights Movement. They then examine period images and news footage in order to analyze the strategies of the Civil Rights Movement and their effectiveness.


Related Episode: Woolworth Sign Investigation

History buff Matt Flynt was browsing Craig’s List when he found a potential American treasure: two signs that once hung above the doors of a local Woolworth’s. Flynt knows that desegregation sit-ins once took place at a Winston-Salem Woolworth’s lunch counter and wants to know whether his signs are a part of that history. Host Tukufu Zuberi sets out to figure out whether these signs were present when the Winston-Salem lunch counters were successfully desegregated.


Suggested Grade Level

This lesson is written for grades 9-10, but can be adapted for use in grades 6-12. Suggestion for adaptation: create a template for the newspaper article with sentence starters that guide the students in organizing their thoughts, provide students with age-appropriate background on the Civil Rights Movement and race relations in America before beginning the lesson.


Suggested Unit of Study

This lesson is appropriate for American History units units covering Civil Rights and race in the United States.





Desegregating the Lunch Counter

Eduardo Pagan interviews two participants in the 1960 sit-ins in Winston-Salem

In this episode excerpt, History Detective Eduardo Pagan interviews two participants in the 1960 sit-ins in Winston-Salem, NC: Carl Matthews, who desegregated the lunch counters, and Bill Stevens, a white man who supported and was arrested with Matthews. Matthews and Stevens describe what it was like to be a part of the Civil Rights Movement and the strategies they used.

Integration Report

Integration Report, 1960, showing African American students arrested for staging a sit-in



To view The Civil Rights Movement slideshow, click here.

To print slideshow, click here.



Analyzing Primary Sources

Newspaper Article Planner


Estimated Time Required

1-2 class periods



The Civil Rights Movement was active from the mid-1950s to the end of the 1960s. African Americans used nonviolent protest in the form of sit-ins and marches in order to protest segregation laws and restore their voting rights. One popular strategy was the sit-in. In the South, drug stores had segregated lunch counters, one for Whites and one for Blacks. It was illegal for a Black person to sit at the White lunch counter. To protest this law, African-Americans sat at the Whites-only lunch counters day after day until they were taken away by the police. Staged mainly by students, both Black and White, sit-ins at lunch counters across the South succeeded in desegregating lunch counters; after months of protest, eventually Blacks were served at the Whites-Only counter. One successful sit-in spurred another. These protests did not change the laws, but they did draw national attention to the problem of segregation.


Discussion Questions

Have students watch the video while taking notes on the following. Afterwards, use the following questions to assess comprehension and prompt discussion: 

  • Who is Carl Matthews? Who is Bill Stevens? What did they do together?
  • How did lunch counters work before the end of segregation?
  • Why did Carl hire a photographer?
  • What was Carl’s plan to desegregate the lunch counter?
  • Describe what happened during the 107-day campaign to desegregate the lunch counters. How did the campaign end?
  • What made Carl’s plan successful?
  • Make a list of the strategies Carl, Bill and the other students used in their campaign.


After showing the clip Desegregating the Lunch Counters from the History Detectives episode Woolworth Sign, explain to the class that they will work individually or in pairs to create newspaper articles about the Winston-Salem sit-ins for one of two student newspapers:

  • The Wake Forest University "Old Gold and Black", the newspaper in the segregated university at the time of the sit-ins. (Wake Forest University was not desegregated until 1962.)
  • The Winston-Salem Teachers College “Teachers College Informer,” the newspaper of a historically black college founded in 1892 in Winston-Salem, NC. Winston-Salem Teachers College was the first African American institution in the United States to grant degrees in elementary teacher education.

Assign half the students in the class to writing an article for “Old Gold and Black,” from the perspective of white students and for an audience of white students. Assign the other class an article for the “Teachers College Informer,” from the perspective of African American students and for an African American audience.

To gather more background knowledge before writing their articles, have students investigate the following archival media, which are featured in this episode of History Detectives.

  • Image 1: March on Washington, showing African Americans marching with signs demanding equal rights, integrated schools, decent housing
  • Image 2: Selma to Montgomery March, showing African Americans and White Americans marching with American flags
  • Image 3: African American man sitting at a closed lunch counter with African American women in the background
  • Image 4: Sign declaring a lunch counter “closed in the interest of public safety”
  • Video: Excerpted from “Integration Report,” made in 1960, showing African American students arrested for staging a sit-in at a local lunch counter

They may take notes on the Analyzing Primary Sources reproducible.

  • Examine: What is the general subject of this photo/video?
  • Examine: What is the first detail that you notice?
  • Examine: How would you describe the people? (Dress, behavior, mood/attitude)
  • Think: Who do you think made the document? Why?
  • Think: Is this source neutral? Or does it want you to see the people in it sympathetically? Or as troublemakers?
  • Question: What questions do you have about this image?
  • Draw Conclusions: What does this asset tell you about the Civil Rights Movement?

Students can use the Newspaper Article Planner reproducible to develop ideas for these articles.  Encourage students to include background on the Civil Rights Movement thus far, quotations from people who were at the sit-ins, analysis of how successful the action has been, and an illustration (drawing or photograph). See “Resources” for further sites for research.

After students have researched and written their articles, lead a discussion on the strategies employed by the Civil Rights Movement.

  • What strategies did the Civil Rights Movement use?
  • What do all those strategies have in common?
  • Why were they successful? How successful?
  • Were there any ill effects of using those strategies? What were some of the unintended or challenging consequences?

Going Further

When the articles are finished, allow students time to read them all. Lead a discussion on how students presented the stories differently based on their assigned perspective and the audience. How did the different newspapers present the sit-in differently?  How does a writer’s perspective influence what they write? How does the intended audience influence what they write?

More on History Detectives

Use the following episodes or lesson plans from History Detectives to support/enhance the teaching of this lesson in your classroom.








National History Standards

Historical Thinking

1. Chronological Thinking: The student thinks chronologically

2. Historical Comprehension: The student comprehends a variety of historical sources

3. Historical Analysis and Interpretation: The student engages in historical analysis and interpretation

4. Historical Research Capabilities: The student conducts historical research


US History Content Standards for Grades 5-12

Era 9: Postwar United States (1945-1970s)

  • Standard 4: The struggle for racial and gender equality and the extension of civil liberties


Common Core State Standards

Grades 6-8

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.6 Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.7 Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.8 Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.9 Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.


Grades 9-10

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3 Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.6 Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.9 Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.   Grades 11-12 CCS.ELA-literacy.RH.11-12.1Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.3 Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.8 Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.9 Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.



Grades 6-12

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-12.1 Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-12.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis reflection, and research.


Grades 6-8

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.7 Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.


Grades 9-12

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-12.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-12.8 Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.