Friday, January 5, 2007

The Woolworth’s lunch counter that became a symbol of the nation’s civil rights movement in 1960 is now part of an exhibit of national icons at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

The 8-foot section of the lunch counter is displayed with Thomas Jefferson’s Bible, the Lone Ranger’s mask and the hat Abraham Lincoln wore the night he was assassinated. It sits across from the desk where Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.

The collection is called “America’s most singular sensations” in the current issue of Smithsonian magazine. The exhibit of 156 objects was selected from more than 3 million items.

“Whenever I speak around the country, all I have to say is we have [a section of] the lunch counter,” said Brent Glass, director of the National Museum of American History. “People know what it is. They fill in the rest. It is that iconic.”

The counter came from the former store in downtown Greensboro, N.C., where four students at North Carolina A&T State University staged a sit-in to integrate the whites-only restaurant. The sit-in movement soon spread across the nation.

The former Woolworth’s store is now the site of the developing International Civil Rights Center and Museum, and museum leaders said the special recognition given to the lunch counter and the sit-in is well deserved.

Although the lunch counter went on display in 1995 at the Museum of American History, it was put into the smaller exhibit when the history museum closed for renovations in September.

Another part of the counter is on display at the Greensboro Historical Museum. The rest of it will be displayed at the civil rights museum, which hasn’t set an opening date.

The icon exhibit will be at the National Air and Space Museum until spring 2008, when the National Museum of American History reopens.

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