Sit-in group who tried to desegregate Bessemer lunch counter reflects 50 years later

BESSEMER, AL (WBRC) - It was over 50 years ago today - a handful of high schoolers walked into a store in Bessemer in hopes of integrating a lunch counter.

On Saturday, many gathered for a remembrance sit-in.

Five days after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law, seven young black men walked inside McLellan's Five and Dime in Bessemer with a purpose.

"A group of high school students decided we wanted to take advantage of the things that we had been denied before. We congregated and decided that we would walk downtown and integrate the white lunch counter," said Herbert Pigrom, who took part in the sit-in.

Even though it was now against the law to discriminate that wasn't the case at the McLellan's lunch counter.

"We were seated and proceeded to order cherry cokes and the next thing I knew Herman was saying here comes some men. Fighting erupted, everybody began to scramble and we had to fight our way out of the store," said Albert Shade, who also took part in the sit-in.

Shade and his friends were beaten with baseball bats and somehow managed to escape. Their friend Eddie Harris was still missing. He was later found badly injured and gave an interview from the hospital that made national news.

Over 50 years later, those who went through that day now reflect on how far the county has come by holding a ceremonial sit in at the old McLellan's, which is now a wedding venue.

"It's good to know our young people of today are taking some actions and go back and look what happened so that they can appreciate the freedoms they have today and keep working hard towards totally equality in the United States," Pigrom said.

These men say the younger generation needs to put down their guns and work together to help bring the community back together so that what happened in 1964 will never happen again.

"I'm hoping that the young people would gain a sense of comradery. Work toward the common good of black and browns, Latino people all over this nation," Shade said.

Shade and others say this sit-in is rarely talked about so that's why they wanted to talk about it in hopes of it being a teaching moment for future generations.

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