CHEERS to Haverhill’s contribution to preserving an important part of American history.
We’re happy to see the beginning of demolition work on Haverhill’s long-empty Woolworth building to make way for the new Harbor Place project that will revitalize the eastern gateway to the city’s downtown. We’re pleased as well that some fixtures from inside the building will be used in a museum exhibit depicting an important event in the civil rights movement.
F.W. Woolworth stores and their popular lunch counters were once common in downtown locations across the country. In the South of the early 1960s, the lunch counters were segregated, set aside for the use of “whites only.”
On May 28, 1963, a group of black and white protesters staged a “sit-in” at the Woolworth counter in Jackson, Miss. An angry white mob attacked the demonstrators, pouring ketchup, sugar and mustard on them and later punching and kicking them. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act became law.
To mark the 50th anniversary of “Freedom Summer,” the campaign to register African-American voters in Mississippi, the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center in Jackson plans to create an exhibit commemorating the 1963 Woolworth sit-in. Museum curator Kenyatta Stewart has been searching the country for Woolworth artifacts for the exhibit. Lunch counter components have been particularly difficult to find.
The Haverhill lunch counter is being disassembled and sent to the Buttonwoods Museum for preservation. Buttonwoods has agreed to lend the Smith Robertson Museum four stools and an eight-foot section of counter for its exhibit.
“I can’t tell you how grateful we are to get these artifacts,” Stewart told reporter Mike LaBella. “It was pretty ugly (the 1963 sit-in) and this is the story we want to tell through our display.
“We want to educate people about the struggle for civil rights during that period of time,” Stewart added. “People worked together. It wasn’t just black people who fought for civil rights, it was white people, too.”