His Silent Strategy Led to Victory at One of the First Sit-In Protests in the Country

photo of a sit in
Via Flickr
Adé Hennis
January 29, 2024

As he sat and studied in Chicago’s Jack Spratt Coffee House in the winter of 1943, James Farmer observed the ways in which the staff treated Black customers worse than white customers. After concluding his studies, the activist knew it was time to put his observations to good use and lead one of the first major sit-ins in America.

No matter how many times Farmer was refused service, he kept coming back to the coffee shop. It was a dangerous strategy, but he was willing to play the long game. Finally it was time to put his plan into action.

What started out being just Farmer and a friend being denied service, ended with 28 Black students from the University of Chicago demanding service. Overwhelmed by the quiet power of these students, the owner had no choice but to accept defeat and serve them. Farmer had won without even having to raise his voice. Checkmate.

It wasn’t just that Farmer and the other protesters rejected the use of violence to achieve their mission that was impressive;  it was also their refusal to give up standing for what was right.

The Jack Spratt Coffee House Sit-In of 1943 showed that we can combine peaceful resistance with fierce persistence in our fight for Black liberation.

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