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Past & Present: The Dockum Sit-In

Wichita, during the mid-20th century, was a city where African Americans were blatantly discriminated against in downtown commercial spaces. For instance, black moviegoers were forced in sit in the balcony of downtown theaters.

Another form of racial bias experienced by black Wichitans during this period occurred in downtown department stores. While local African Americans were allowed to purchase products from these businesses, they were not allowed to sit and eat at their lunch counters.

During the summer of 1958, members of the Wichita NAACP’s youth council decided to challenge this blatant disrespect of local black consumers. Beginning on July 19 and continuing until August 11, these brave young people conducted the nation’s first student-led lunch counter “sit-in” at the Dockum Drug Store at the corner of Broadway and Douglas.

Ironically, as Dr. Gretchen Eick noted in her book on the civil rights movement in Wichita, the Dockum sit-in, based upon a variety of circumstances, became all but erased from the narrative of America’s civil rights movement. At the same time, the 1960 student-led “sit-in” in Greensboro, North Carolina, became widely portrayed as the pioneering event in this regard, despite being two years later.

Fortunately, in recent years, the Dockum sit-in is receiving the accolades it deserves. One manifestation of this is an upcoming August 11 celebration, hosted by the Wichita branch of the NAACP, to honor the 60th anniversary of this significant historical event.

Robert E. Weems Jr. is the Willard W. Garvey Distinguished Professor of Business History at Wichita State University.