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January 18, 2013

Behind the Soda Fountain and Civil Rights

Paul Henderson Photograph Collection, Baltimore City Life Museum Collection. (HEN.00.B1-035). Courtesy of Maryland Historical Society

Paul Henderson Photograph Collection, Baltimore City Life Museum Collection. (HEN.00.B1-035). Courtesy of Maryland Historical Society

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I wrote an article for Coca-Cola Journey entitled “Fighting for Civil Rights at the Soda Fountain”. It details the role that soda fountain sit-ins in the 1950s-60s had in furthering Civil Rights in the United States. It was fun to research and write this piece.

Part of my inspiration for writing it was learning over the past year that the first job that my grandmother, Lydia Booker Kimber, had was at a soda fountain (of all places!) when she was sixteen years old. She described to me how she learned to take orders and serve soft drinks at the lunch counter of the Southside Drug Store in Farmville, Virginia in the 1950s in such detail that she virtually put me there. I imagine the visual she painted looking similar to the image above of “Women behind lunch counter with soda fountain”, taken in 1950s Baltimore, Maryland by photographer Paul S. Henderson .

She lived during an awkward time in which she played with white children in her community and had a wonderful relationship with the white soda fountain owner she was hired and trained by, yet could not sit down at the very counter with them because she was African-American, and Farmville soda fountains were segregated. So it is very interesting that soda fountains just like these played a key role in the fight for Civil Rights in the U.S. During the course of my research, I heard first-hand stories from Marilyn Pryce Hoytt, who participated along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in an Atlanta sit-in, and my own mother-in-law, Amy Thompson, who participated in a sit-in as a college student in Savannah, Georgia. I’m thankful today that because of the work of Dr. King and so many others who fought for civil rights, and I look forward to visiting the spot of the Southside Drug Store and soda fountain the next time I visit my grandmother in Virginia.