On Feb. 20, 1960, more than 200 Virginia Union University students descended on downtown Richmond. Their goal: End the segregation in food service, and stand up for their rights.

Two days later, 34 of the students were arrested.

“We made history that day, and things changed as a result,” said Elizabeth Johnson Rice, now 76, who was one of the students protesting.

Given the nickname of the “Richmond 34,” the group will be honored today with a historical marker at the place of their sit-in. The formal ceremony will start between 11 and 11:15 a.m. on Broad Street between Sixth and Seventh streets.

To begin their sit-in, the 200-plus students entered the “Whites Only” lunch counter at Thalhimers Department Store. They were refused service but stayed until the store closed.

On Feb. 22, 34 of the students, including Johnson Rice, returned and were arrested and charged with trespassing.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 34 students’ convictions after a tense legal battle, an impactful victory for the civil rights movement.

The historical marker comes after the “Richmond 34” were honored in 2010 with a large 50th anniversary celebration that featured a performance by musical artist John Legend to culminate a week of events.

The unveiling also comes after prominent civil rights leader Dick Gregory spoke in Richmond on June 17.

A meet-and-greet will be held at Richmond CenterStage, 600 E. Grace St., at 10:45 a.m. before attendees walk to the location where the marker will be unveiled.

“This marker will make a distinction between us and other sit-ins and the Richmond 34 will be recognized,” Rice said.

Today’s unveiling is free to the public.


(804) 649-6243

Twitter: @jmattingly306

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