1960 Md. sit-in case remembered as part of history

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“For years later, every time I would think about drinking a cup of coffee, I would have flashbacks,” Gainey said.

A few months after their protest, a judge convicted the group of trespassing and fined them $10 each, though the fines were suspended. Their convictions were later upheld by Maryland’s highest court — the one Bell would come to lead. The court wrote that “the right to speak freely and to make public protest does not import a right to invade or remain upon the property of private citizens.”

The case was then appealed to the Supreme Court, but its ruling in 1964 was largely a letdown. By then, four years after the sit-in at Hooper’s, Maryland had changed its laws so that businesses could not deny customers service based on their race. As a result, a majority of justices decided to send the case back to Maryland’s highest court, asking it to reconsider the case in light of the new laws. But even some of the Supreme Court justices were upset that their court ducked the constitutional questions in the case.

“There is no specific provision in the Constitution which protects rights of privacy and enables restaurant owners to refuse service to Negroes,” Justice William O. Douglas wrote in a separate opinion.

Without his colleagues’ support, however, the case ended uneventfully.

“As it turns out, it is a footnote in history,” Bell said of the case.

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Follow Jessica Gresko at http://twitter.com/jessicagresko

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