Intern Blog: The Richmond 34

Our PR & Marketing Intern Ta’Kia focuses on the Richmond 34 and the related object in the Valentine collection.

For Black History Month, I wanted to dedicate my second entry on the Valentine blog to the Richmond 34.

During the 1950s and 60s, African-Americans engaged in a battle for social justice, focused on the integration of cities, towns, public spaces and equal rights for all people. This fight took on a variety of forms. Encouraged by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., non-violent protests became a significant form of direct action. Attempts to reinforce the status quo through intimidation, physical violence and police arrests resulted in strained race relations during this era throughout Richmond, Virginia and the nation.

There were many non-violent protests that propelled the struggle for civil rights. Rosa Parks’ ractions led to the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott and the peaceful March on Washington where Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech sparked a national dialogue about racial injustice.

Inspired by the Greensboro, North Carolina Woolworth Lunch Counter Sit-In, Virginia Union University students conducted their own non-violent protest by staging a variety of actions, including a sit-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Richmond on February 20, 1960.

Woolworth’s Lunch Counter and Stools, ca. 1950, 501 E. Broad Street, V.94.02.01-.07

On February 22, 58 years ago today, VUU students conducted another sit-in at the Thalhimers department store in the heart of Richmond’s shopping district. 34 were arrested, although their convictions were eventually overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Campaign for Human Dignity in Richmond was created as a direct result of these actions. This led to citizens boycotting many of the city’s segregated shops. The resulting economic loss experienced was detrimental and brought about change as a number of retail establishments desegregated in hopes of winning back their former clientele. In fact, by the summer of 1963, more than 100 of Richmond’s 400 restaurants and cafés had integrated.

Photo with Mr. John Dorman, participant in the Thalhimers protest in 1960.

On June 28, 2016, a marker was unveiled on Broad Street to commemorate the Thalhimers sit-in by the “Richmond 34” as the student participants came to be known.

As a Virginia Union University student myself, I was lucky enough to meet Mr. John Doorman, a participant in the protest in 1960, and briefly speak with him about his experiences. A young teenager at the time, Mr. Doorman picketed outside Thalhimers while the students conducted the sit-in.

Come visit the Valentine and see the Woolworth’s lunch counter and stools, site of the February 20, 1960 sit-in, on display in “This is Richmond, Virginia”, our permanent exhibition!

Ta’Kia is a PR & Marketing Intern at the Valentine


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