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Returning 60 years after Thalhimers sit-in ‘brought tears' for Richmond 34 member

'Didn’t find out I was black until I came to Virginia.'
Posted at 1:58 PM, Feb 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-21 15:42:39-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Richmond 34 were honored at VUU for the 60 year anniversary since their sit-in at Thalhimers department store, protesting segregation.

Raymond B. Randolph Jr., one of the 34, was in attendance with his son, Raymond B. Randolph III, and grandson, Raymond B. Randolph IV. They were enjoying civil liberties, Raymon B. Randolph Jr. said he didn't always have.

"My friends were Jewish, Irish, Italian -- and that’s who I was," said Randolph. "Didn’t find out I was black until I came to Virginia."

Randolph said that realization came more than 60 years ago, when he made the move from Connecticut to Richmond, Virginia, to attend Virginia Union University -- not far from where his father grew up.

"If you’re going to the movie you had to climb up to the fire escape -- the top floor and that’s where black folks would look at the movie," said Randolph. "Thalhimers, specifically where I was arrested, you could go look at clothes, but you couldn't try them on. And if they didn't fit, you couldn't take them back. They were yours."

Randolph said it was a period of loss of dignity, and it sparked a fire inside him.

On Feb. 22 1960, he and 34 other VUU students made their way to the Thalhimers department store for a sit-in protest against segregation.They made their way up to the prestigious Richmond Room.

"Nice place to sit down enjoy your tea and coffee -- and here comes the Richmond 34 inviting themselves to the tea," Randolph remembered. "This is the card I was given when we came through the door."

That card requested that they leave or be charged with trespassing.

"You may be fined up to $100 or confined in jail for up to 30 days or both," Randolph said while reading the card he received 60 years ago.

"For something you do and give no thought," he said. "Well, that’s what we received.”

After that, the 34 ended up behind bars. But little did they know at the time the impact this would have on the civil rights movement.

Sixty years later, dozens came to gather in their honor to reflect on the change and the progress toward equality that’s been made since then.

Randolph said it took him 50 years after his graduation to come back Richmond -- and when he finally did it was for a reunion of the 34.

"You had black and white policemen -- they were just laughing and talking and joking with one another and I looked at that 50 years later and it just brought tears to my eyes -- that those things had changed."