Howard Johnson Restaurant Sit In

4001-4011 Durham Chapel Hill Boulevard, Durham, NC 27707

500 people filled the parking lot of the Howard Johnson Ice Cream Parlor and Restaurant demanding that African Americans be served with the same courtesy and access as white patrons. During this "Freedom Assembly" protesters sat inside as well. It took more than a year of consistent aggitation before the restaurant changed its policy and opened its doors to all.

The Howard Johnson’s Ice Cream parlor and diner was well known in the 1950s and 1960s for its delicious frozen treats and home-style meatloaf. It became the site of weekly protests against the restaurant’s deep-rooted segregation policies. Beginning on August 12, 1962, over 500 men and women joined together at St. Joseph’s AME Church under the leadership of Floyd McKissick, Roy Wilkins, and James Farmer.

The three leaders gave speeches that motivated the protesters to stand up, to resist compromise, and to fight for what they deserved. This congregation of African Americans and white supporters came to be known as the  “Freedom Assembly.” After several speeches, lines of cars left the church and plugged up Chapel Hill Boulevard as the protestors drove to the local Howard Johnson’s where they initiated a spirited outcry against discrimination in public restaurants.

The uproar occurred only a year after the Freedom Rides of 1961 and five years after the Royal Ice Cream Parlor protests. Many sat inside the restaurant for prolonged hours just waiting to be served and refusing to budge, while others led rallies outside on the concrete parking lot until dusk. Their non-violent restrain was none other than admirable. However it was a seemingly endless battle; many were arrested and beat, yet their hope stayed alive.

It took more than a year before any Howard Johnson’s made any changes in their segregation policies but these parking lot protests were a crucial stepping stone in the city’s continual civil right’s struggle and in the desegregation of other neighborhood restaurants.  Roy Wilkins was quoted by the Herald Sun saying "You cannot live respectably with segregation."