A handmade “Whites Only” poster hung on a wall behind the lunch counter Tuesday inside the historic Woolworth building in Oxnard.
The high school students took their seats across from it — 51 years after four black college freshmen sat down at a similar lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C.
They were refused service and told to leave. They stayed.
A half-century ago, the sit-in set off six months of demonstrations against segregation. On Tuesday, a history class from Pacifica High School marked the anniversary with a re-enactment — a first of its kind in the county, officials said.
“It feels good because it feels like you’re part of it. You’re making sure that people don’t forget about what happened,” said Jasmine Chacon, 16.
In Greensboro, the lunch counter was said to have closed early on Feb. 1, 1960 when the four friends refused to get up from their seats at the counter. But day after day, the college students came back, joined by dozens of others. When the lunch counter filled up, protesters stood outside, according to the North Carolina Museum of History.
The sit-ins lasted for six months. Then in July 1960, the Greensboro Woolworth served its first black customers at the lunch counter.
On Tuesday, John R. Hatcher III, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, watched as the Pacifica High students re-enacted the first day of the sit-in, inside the Fresh & Fabulous Cafe. The gold letters that spell out “Woolworth” still hang on the outside of the South A Street building.
Hatcher, who grew up in Birmingham, Ala., has been part of the civil rights movement his whole life, he told the kids. They were doing something important, he said. They were making history.
Josh Chancer, a resource teacher for the Oxnard Union High School District, worked with Pacifica teacher Ramon Rodriguez and the students in the school’s culinary academy to make the re-enactment happen. They approached cafe owner Magda Weydt, who gave the OK.
This is learning in its highest form, Chancer said Tuesday. This is not just memorizing, it’s creating, he said.
The kids were a part of an event — one that involved standing up for civil rights and making change, Rodriguez said. “They will remember this event.”
In a historical display set up in a small museum behind the cafe, pictures and stories hang chronologically along the wall. Under 1960, there’s a photo of college students at a lunch counter sit-in.
The text beneath the photo talks about how the Greensboro sit-in inspired others throughout that state.
The four college students didn’t intend on their actions becoming a nationwide movement, said Jasmine, who played one of the Greensboro Four.
“They did it because they were tired of not being served,” she said. “It turned into such a big thing that it changed everybody’s life. … I think that’s the real impact.”
Taking part in it is different from reading a textbook or even talking about it in class, said Julie Torres, 17, who played the restaurant manager in the re-enactment. “You get to feel what happened.”
As the re-enactment started Tuesday, four Pacifica students walked into the cafe, talking nervously.
“We’re really going to do this?” one said.
“Yes. It needs to be done,” another answered.