[image-1]On April 1, 1960, 24 students from Burke High School sat down at King Street’s Kress lunch counter — a place off-limits to blacks — in protest of segregation. As the Post & Courier reported, “They were not served. They were told to leave. They did not leave. They hummed songs and recited the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm.” That afternoon all of the students were arrested with bail set at $10 each.
Their bravery was finally publicly remembered in 2013 when the Preservation Society of Charleston installed a plaque in front of 281 King St., today clothing retailer H&M. But for more than a year now the plaque has been missing from its place of prominence, a victim of numerous fender benders.
“It’s right in front of a truck loading bay,” explains Tim Condo, Preservation Society Manager of Preservation Initiatives. “The way the sign was placed — so people could read it on either side without having to step off the sidewalk — was putting it in the way of trucks. Finally it broke in half.” As trucks parked to unload clothing at H&M, they continued to knock it over and finally it gave away. Today, Condo says, it’s with the City’s Parks Department in historical marker limbo.
The problem is, the Preservation Society fears replacing the sign in its original location will just result in another truck collision. “There’s not an easy fix for it,” says Condo. “We want both sides of that info displayed, but there’s no feasible location to put that sign without it being put in harms way only to be knocked down again. There’s a possibility to mount it on the building itself, but then it might not look like a state marker look.” The Preservation Society has also looked at installing the marker on the other side of the Kress Building on Wentworth Street, but Condo says that wouldn’t be as prominent of a location.
“It’s a loose end we need to tie up,” says Condo. “We resumed talks with the City at one point at the end of last year. It’s really something we could feasibly get done in the next couple of months and we’d need to resume that conversation and look at that type of signage.”
The Kress sit-in sign was one of five total signs installed in 2013 honoring Civil Rights activism in Charleston. “We put one in front of the Progressive Club on Johns Island, The Cigar Factory where the workers’ strike took place, and the MUSC building hospital strike, and one on upper King in front of James Simons Elementary School because it was one of the four schools to be desegregated in 1963.” All four of those signs are still standing. The Kress sit-in plaque’s future, however, remains uncertain.
Says Condo, “It’s something that is hanging out there and we know we need to figure something out for it.”