Picket Line Outside of Foley’s

Desegregating an iconic Houston department store

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Foley’s Department Store in downtown Houston was the site of some of the first lunch counter sit-ins and desegregation protests west of the Mississippi River. Texas Southern University students led daily sit-ins at Foley’s first-floor luncheonette and when the store closed the restaurant to all customers, their protests continued as picket lines in front of the store demanding that Foley’s integrate. The students selected the store because of its popularity and central location, which brought visibility to the movement.

Foley’s had been assessing desegregation since the 1950s, tracking customer feedback, doing research on the untapped Black Houstonian market, and adding a restaurant and more restrooms for black customers. But, they had yet to integrate, prompting the March 1960 sit-ins. When the store closed the restaurant to all customers, the protests continued on the sidewalk out front.

Bob Dundas, Foley’s Senior Vice President, proactively responded to the protests by working with Black community leader Hobart Taylor and Houston Chronicle publisher John T. Jones on a plan to quietly integrate all 70 of Houston’s lunch counters on the same day — August 25, 1960. They convinced local media not to report on the integrated lunch counters for one week, successfully avoiding the racial violence that had erupted in other Southern cities.

In the years following desegregation, Foley’s received both positive feedback from Black customers and allies as well as fervent complaints. Some white customers made clear they would no longer be shopping at Foley’s if it meant being helped by Black employees or encountering Black customers in the same restaurants, restrooms, and fitting rooms. Ultimately, integration helped rather than hurt Foley’s bottom line, and the store remained a fixture in downtown Houston until it closed its doors in 2006.

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Picket Line Outside of Foley’s Artifact from Houston, TX
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