The Read Drug Store Sit-Ins (1955)

Reads Drug Store, Courtesy of the Maryland Center for History and Culture
Reads Drug Store
Courtesy of the Maryland Center for History and Culture

The Read Drug Store Sit-Ins, also known as the Baltimore Sit-Ins, occurred on January 20, 1955, in Baltimore, Maryland. The sit-ins were organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and students from Morgan State College (Now Morgan State University) against two locations of Read Drug Store, the main one in downtown Baltimore and the Northwood Shopping Center in the northeast section of the city.

The first Read Drug Store in Baltimore opened in 1934 in downtown Baltimore at the corner of Howard and Lexington Streets. The Store expanded throughout the city and surrounding suburbs. In the early 1950s, Read Drug Store was racially segregated. African Americans could buy products from the store but could not sit at its lunch counters. This practice frustrated many Black Baltimore residents. Adding to the frustration, a group of Black students from Morgan State College, an HBCU, were denied service in 1952 when they attempted to enter a Read Drug Store located in the nearby Northwood Shopping Center.

After the denial of service, the Morgan College students joined the Baltimore chapter of CORE, which had already been picketing Read for its segregated lunch counter policy. On January 20, 1955, a combined group of protestors from Morgan State and CORE organized a sit-in at the Read Drug Store in downtown Baltimore. Another group of Morgan State students staged a separate sit-in at the Northwood Shopping Center location. This was the first sit-in protest to target multiple locations in one city.

The sit-in leaders included Ben Everingham, Dean McQuay Klah, and Dr. Helena Hicks, a faculty member at Morgan State. The sit-in protests at the two locations lasted less than an hour as the protestors sat at lunch counters in both facilities while being denied service. Despite their sit-ins violating Maryland’s segregation laws, none of the protestors were arrested.

On January 22, 1955, two days after the sit-ins, Read Drug Store acknowledged losing business because of the protests.  As a result, the Drug Store Chain’s President, Arthur Nattans Sr., announced in the Baltimore Afro-American, a local Black newspaper, “We will serve all customers throughout our entire stores including the [drinking] fountains, and this becomes effective immediately.” From that point, Read Drug Stores were desegregated across the city of Baltimore. Other businesses across the city slowly began to desegregate as well. The Read Drug Store Sit-Ins would become a model for the sit-in movement that would expand across the nation in the 1960s.