Punishing Student Resistance to Segregation


Students at Alabama State College, a traditionally African American school in Montgomery, Alabama, staged an antisegregation sit-in at a segregated lunch counter in the Montgomery County Courthouse on February 25, 1960.

Alabama Governor John Patterson, who was also chairman of the State Board of Education, condemned the sit-in and threatened to terminate the college’s funding unless it expelled the student organizers, warning that “someone [was] likely to be killed” if the protests continued. The next day, hundreds of Alabama State College students marched on the state capitol. On March 2, 1960, the college expelled the nine student leaders of the sit-in.

More than 1000 students immediately pledged a mass strike, threatened to withdraw from the school, and staged days of demonstrations; 37 students were arrested. Montgomery Police Commissioner L.B. Sullivan recommended closing the college, saying it produced only “graduates of hate and racial bitterness.” Meanwhile, six of the nine expelled students sought reinstatement through a federal lawsuit. In August 1960, in Dixon v. Alabama, a federal court upheld the expulsions as “justified and, in fact, necessary” and barred the students’ readmission.

On February 25, 2010, in a ceremony commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the sit-in, Alabama State University (formerly Alabama State College) President William Harris reinstated the nine students, criticized Governor Patterson’s “arbitrary, illegal and intrusive” role in forcing the expulsions, and praised the student protest as “an important moment in civil rights history.”