Washington Wizards guard Ish Smith spoke with NBC Sports Washington regarding his connection to the Greensboro sit-ins, a series of nonviolent protests from February to July 1960, primarily in the Woolworth store in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Smith, who is from Charlotte, shared that his grandmother worked at the Woolworth store during the sit-ins including Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr., and David Richmond; all young black students at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.
"To actually have someone on the ground floor right there during the time of the sit-ins she was upstairs," Smith said. "She used to cook the food, and when she was done cooking the food, the caucasian waitresses would go upstairs, get the food, bring it down and serve it to the people because they wouldn't take food from an African-American waitress."
During those six months, the sit-in movement reached other segregated stores and lunch counters in the city; those businesses saw one-third of their sales drop. As a result, on July 25, 1960, four black employees at Woolworth were the first to be served at a Woolworth lunch counter, prompting a slow integration.
Smith states that during that time, his grandmother was trying to "take care of her children, doing her job." The Wizards' guard added that his grandmother knew the lunch counter culture wasn't right, but she was simply trying to "make ends meet" during a period of racial discrimination.
The sit-ins in Greensboro had a national effect as they played a role in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which mandated desegregation in public accommodations.
Today, the F. W. Woolworth Company store in Greensboro is the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, which contains the lunch counter, except for several seats that the museum donated to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2016.