Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Banana Splits and Civil Rights at Woolworths

A few blogs ago, I blogged* about being a paper boy and going downtown Missoula to pay for the papers. What I didn’t mention was that this trek also usually included a stop at the F. W. Woolworth store. Many people will remember these kinds of stores that evolved from general or mercantile stores, which provided everyday needs at everyday prices (5 cents and 10 cents). Later, of course, these stores developed past charging 5 and 10-cent prices, kind of like today’s so-called dollar stores which sell at prices beyond a dollar. F. W. Woolworth, commonly called the ‘dime store,’ Woolworth’s or Woolworths was one such store.

One particular feature of Woolworths was that most of them had diners that looked like this.

The Woolworth I remember had a long luncheonette counter, which always seemed to be busy. Downtown workers used it for lunch, or a coffee-break, and shoppers relaxed there with a coffee, a full lunch, or just a dessert. Wealthy paperboys like my brother and I used it to feed our banana split craving. When we eyed a couple of chairs, we took our places and gambled for the price of the banana splits by selecting a helium balloon, which would be popped to release a little piece of paper with the price of each banana split. Sometimes we felt like winners and sometimes we didn’t. But, as I said, we were wealthy entrepreneurs with lots of dollar bills and quarters to spend. In any case, the splits were always delicious and satisfying.

Civil rights and the war in Viet Nam were big social issues when I was growing up. Woolsworths’ dining counters became a flash point in the battle for civil rights. The peaceful sit-in started on the first day of February 1960. Four black freshmen students from an agriculture-technical college in Greensboro, North Carolina took their places at the counter. Of course, segregation was still prevalent, and so these men were not served. They sat at the counter until the store closed. Three days later, 25 other men joined the first four. The group number later jumped to 63, and even three white women joined the movement. On the 28th day of May 1953, there were over 300 civil rights workers in the store. The protest spread to 55 cities, and Woolworth became a symbol of social protest for civil rights around the country.

Today, the Greensboro Woolworth dining counter is a museum piece.

My banana split days at Woolworths post-dated the sit-ins, but it is interesting to note that my favorite banana split hang-out was once a part of the civil rights movement. We can be a part of history without even knowing it. I think that Woolworths no longer exist (not sure of this), but banana splits are still popular, and the work for civil rights remains a vital movement.

* The term “weblog” was coined by Jorn Barger on December 17, 1997. The short form, “blog”, was coined by Peter Merholz, who jokingly broke the word weblog into the phrase we blog in the sidebar of his blog Peterme.com in April or May 1999. Shortly thereafter, Evan Williams at Pyra Labs used “blog” as both a noun and verb (“to blog”, meaning “to edit one’s weblog or to post to one’s weblog”) and devised the term “blogger” in connection with Pyra Labs’ Blogger product, leading to the popularization of the terms. Wikipedia contributors. (2022, July 17). Blog. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22:22, August 17, 2022, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Blog&oldid=1098821777

Published by Thomas

Retired from active priestly ministry in the Catholic Church; former Benedictine monk; francophile; Holocaust researcher; Delta One Million Miler; Ex-Patriated American to the Republic of Panama

2 thoughts on “Wednesday, 17 August 2022

  1. Woolworths at one time 4000 stores, closed the last one in America 1997. Known as Red Stores in Mexico. Remember the dyed peeps, baby chickens, sold during Easter by Woolworths? I had a blue peep, gave it to my grandfather to raise, he said it was delicious.

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  2. Now this is an article I can sink my teeth into. Reminds me of my days scooping ice cream in Tiburon, California. Buds ice cream was the ‘it’ place to go. The boys who worked at the bike shop would come by and put beers into the middle of the ice cream tubs for me! I repaid them by making them banana splits. Except silly me, I got so caught up in all the toppings and such that I plum forgot to include the bananas. Or maybe it was the beers? Years later I ran into one of the bike store boys and he regained that day they got the banana splits from me without the bananas! What sticks in out minds is what makes us real to each other. Thanks for your imaginative posts, the ignite us all!

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