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decided: May 20, 1963.



Warren, Black, Douglas, Clark, Harlan, Brennan, Stewart, White, Goldberg

Author: Warren

[ 373 U.S. Page 268]

 MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents for review trespass convictions resulting from an attempt by Negroes to be served in a privately owned restaurant customarily patronized only by whites. However, unlike a number of the cases this day decided, no state statute or city ordinance here forbids desegregation of the races in all restaurant facilities. Nevertheless, we conclude that this case is governed by the principles announced in Peterson v. City of Greenville, ante, p. 244, and that the convictions for this reason must be reversed.

Petitioners are three Negro and one white college students. On September 17, 1960, at about 10:30 in the morning they entered the McCrory Five and Ten Cent Store in New Orleans, Louisiana. They sat down at a refreshment counter at the back of the store and requested service, which was refused. Although no sign so indicated, the management operated the counter on a segregated basis, serving only white patrons. The counter was designed to accommodate 24 persons. Negroes were welcome to shop in other areas of the store. The restaurant manager, believing that the "unusual circumstance" of Negroes sitting at the counter created an "emergency," asked petitioners to leave and, when they did not do so, ordered that the counter be closed. The restaurant manager then contacted the store manager and called the police. He frankly testified that the petitioners did not cause any disturbance, that they were orderly, and that he asked them to leave because they were Negroes. Presumably he asked the white petitioner to leave because he was in the company of Negroes.

A number of police officers, including a captain and major of police, arrived at the store shortly after they were called. Three of the officers had a conference with the store manager. The store manager then went behind

[ 373 U.S. Page 269]

     the counter, faced petitioners, and in a loud voice asked them to leave. He also testified that the petitioners were merely sitting quietly at the counter throughout these happenings. When petitioners remained seated, the police major spoke to petitioner Goldfinch, and asked him what they were doing there. Mr. Goldfinch replied that petitioners "were going to sit there until they were going to be served." When petitioners still declined to leave, they were arrested by the police, led out of the store, and taken away in a patrol wagon. They were later tried and convicted for violation of the Louisiana criminal mischief statute.*fn1 This statute, in its application to this case, has all the elements of the usual trespass statute. Each petitioner was sentenced to serve 60 days in the Parish Prison and to pay a fine of $350. In default of payment of the fine, each was to serve 60 additional days in prison. On appeal to the Supreme Court of Louisiana the judgments of conviction were affirmed. 241 La. 958, 132 So. 2d 860. Because of the substantial federal questions presented, we granted certiorari. 370 U.S. 935.

Prior to this occurrence New Orleans city officials, characterizing conduct such as petitioners were arrested for as "sit-in demonstrations," had determined that such attempts to secure desegregated service, though orderly and possibly inoffensive to local merchants, would not be permitted.

[ 373 U.S. Page 270]

     Exactly one week earlier, on September 10, 1960, a like occurrence had taken place in a Woolworth store in the same city. In immediate reaction thereto the Superintendent of Police issued a highly publicized statement which discussed the incident and stated that "We wish to urge the parents of both white and Negro students who participated in today's sit-in demonstration to urge upon these young people that such actions are not in the community interest. . . . We want everyone to fully understand that the police department and its personnel is ready and able to enforce the laws of the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana."*fn2 On September 13,

[ 373 U.S. Page 271]

     four days before petitioners' arrest, the Mayor of New Orleans issued an unequivocal statement condemning such conduct and demanding its cessation. This statement was also widely publicized; it read in part:

"I have today directed the superintendent of police that no additional sit-in demonstrations . . . will be permitted . . . regardless of the avowed purpose or intent of the participants . . . .

"It is my determination that the community interest, the public safety, and the economic welfare of this city require that such demonstrations cease and that henceforth they be prohibited by the police department."*fn3

[ 373 U.S. Page 272]

     Both statements were publicized in the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The Mayor and the Superintendent of Police both testified that, to their knowledge, no eating establishment in New Orleans operated desegregated eating facilities.

Both the restaurant manager and the store manager asked the petitioners to leave. Petitioners were charged with failing to leave at the request of the store manager. There was evidence to indicate that the restaurant manager asked petitioners to leave in obedience to the directive of the city officials. He told them that "I am not allowed to serve you here. . . . We have to sell to you at the rear of the store where we have a colored counter." (Emphasis supplied.) And he called the police "as a matter of routine procedure." ...

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