‘Change the world’: Students from Shelby sit-ins commemorated on 62-year anniversary

SHELBY, N.C. — Friday marked 62 years since a group of Black high school students in Shelby took a stand that changed their community forever.

The Shelby Star documented the story of the Shelby sit-ins back in February 1960. The article, along with the details of the historic moment, will become the latest marker on the North Carolina Civil Rights Trail.

The students were from a community called Freedom. They had water poured on them and they were doused with bug spray when they sat down at a lunch counter in downtown Shelby to protest segregation.

More than six decades later, a special marker was erected at the sit-in spot telling everyone about the act that sparked a change.

Three of the former students sat down with Channel 9′s Ken Lemon this week to talk about the remarkable moment in civil rights history.

Protester Haywood Homsley said he never thought the moment would be memorialized as part of the state’s Civil Rights trail. He was there Saturday when the marker was unveiled on top of a pole in downtown Shelby. When Lemon talked to him before the ceremony, he was emotional.

“I’ll be honest with you, I may cry,” Homsley said.

He was 16 years old when he and his friends, who attended Cleveland High School in the old Freedom community of Shelby, became fed up with not being able to eat inside Smith’s Drug Store on Warren Street.

Black people were barred from normal activity in most downtown businesses, or they were forced to use poorly kept facilities for Black people only.

“It’s something that we knew we’d have to endure to make the point,” Homsley said. “It was time for a change.”

Lucretia Bell was also there to protest on that historic day.

“We as young folks didn’t want to live the way our parents lived, and we just had that strong feeling that we wanted to do something about it,” said Bell.

Bell said they had a series of meetings with faith leaders and parents and decided they had to act. Elbert Rudasill, who now lives in Philadelphia, was one of the leaders.

“We wanted to change the world really,” Rudasill said.

The children from Freedom started as a small group marching toward downtown Shelby. Rudasill said as they went, more people joined -- and so did counter protesters.

“Members of the white community begin to harass us and throw rocks,” said Rudasill.

That didn’t stop them. They kept going.

“The determination of the youth at that time, you can’t put it into words. Nothing was going to turn them back,” Homsley said.

Homsley, Bell, and Rudasill said the sit-in, reported in the Shelby Star, inspired more marches and sit-ins around the country and led to incremental desegregation in Shelby.

“The commitment, the courageousness was unbelievable,” Homsley said.

Buffalo Creek Gallery, the business that now stands at the location that was once Smith’s Drug Store, created a display commemorating the moment a few of the students walked in and sat at the lunch counter.

(WATCH BELOW: Growing up Chambers: What it means to walk in the footsteps of a civil rights giant)