News →

60th Anniversary of Anti-Segregation Protest in Richmond Commemorated at Virginia Union University

Woman at podium
Elizabeth Johnson-Rice speaks at Virginia Union University. Johnson-Rice was a member of the Richmond 34. (Photo: Alan Rodriguez Espinoza/VPM)

* VPM Intern Alan Rodriguez Espinoza reported this story

Members of the Richmond 34, a group of Virginia Union University students who protested segregation in the '60s, spoke at their alma mater on Friday.

On February 22, 1960, these 34 students marched to Thalhimers, a segregated department store in downtown Richmond. They staged a sit-in protest in the whites-only section of the store’s lunch counter.

The students were arrested and incarcerated on grounds of trespassing -- one of the first instances of mass arrests during the Civil Rights Movement. Leroy Bray was the first of these students to be arrested.

“Looking back in retrospect, it has had a tremendous impact on the whole of the United States of America, and we did not realize that it would have that kind of impact in 1960,” Bray said. 

The Richmond 34 appealed the trespassing convictions. The case was taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was ruled that trespassing did not justify racial segregation. Clarencia Shade is the daughter of Clarence Newsome, one of the attorneys for the Richmond 34.

“They shifted the tide, and I believe they gave courage to other communities and cultures and states. It was internationally known,” Shade said.

The arrests of the Richmond 34 sparked a series of mass protests and boycotts of segregated stores in Richmond’s shopping district. By January of the following year, many of the stores had desegregated.

Elizabeth Johnson-Rice, a member of the Richmond 34, says their story belongs in textbooks.

“When I went to school, everything about African Americans was about picking cotton in the cotton field,” Johnson-Rice said.”We’re much more than that, and I think the students need to know that as they see their history.”