S.H. Kress, Sitman’s Drug Store and the Greyhound Bus Station, all located in downtown Baton Rouge, were the sites of peaceful lunch counter sit-ins by Southern University students and others. On March 28, 1960, seven students from Southern attempted, through nonviolent direct action, to integrate the five-and-dime store’s lunch counter. The next day, Southern students conducted sit-ins at two other Baton Rouge locations. Collectively known as the Baton Rouge Sit-ins, these were the first sit-ins in Louisiana’s modern civil rights movement.
After ordering the students to leave, police arrested and charged them with disturbing the peace and claimed that their behavior could “foreseeably disturb or alarm the public,” according to Louisiana’s “disturbing the peace” statute.
Garner v. Louisiana was a landmark case resulting from the students’ arrest. The case was argued by Thurgood Marshall before the U.S. Supreme Court. On December 11, 1961, the court unanimously ruled that Louisiana could not convict peaceful sit-in protesters who refused to leave dining establishments under the state’s disturbing the peace laws.
Garner v. Louisiana was an important case for the Civil Rights Movement, and one of many civil rights cases argued before the Warren Court (1953–1969). Eventually, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce.”
The Baton Rouge Sit-ins are considered one of the most important events of the Civil Rights Movement in Louisiana. Sitman’s Drug Store and the Greyhound bus terminal, the sites of the other lunch counters targeted by the Southern students in early 1960, no longer exist. The only surviving site and the first site of the Baton Rouge Sit-ins, the S.H. Kress Store, is certainly of exceptional importance in Louisiana’s Civil Rights history.