Ayanna Najuma (center) and friends sit at the counter of a "whites only" restaurant.


Kids Fought for Change

On a hot August day in 1958, 7-year-old Ayanna Najuma and her friends went into a restaurant in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The kids sat down and tried to order food, but the waitress ignored them. They waited for hours, but no one would serve them.

Why wouldn’t the restaurant serve these kids? To answer that question, you need to know what some parts of our country were like not that long ago.

Kept Apart

In the 1950s, black people and white people were segregated in some parts of the U.S. This was especially common in the South. Racist laws prevented African-Americans from going to the same schools and living in the same neighborhoods as white people. Black people also couldn’t eat in the same restaurants as white people.

Racism has a long history in the U.S. Starting about 400 years ago, hundreds of thousands of Africans were brought to America and forced to work as slaves. By the early 1800s, slavery was illegal in Northern states. But the practice continued in the South for decades. Even after slavery was banned across the nation in 1865, black Americans were treated unfairly. Segregation was one example of this mistreatment.

Ayanna and her friends were African-American. They were young, but they knew segregation was wrong. They decided to take action. It was a time when many Americans were fighting against racism. Their protests became known as the civil rights movement.


Ayanna at the first sit-in

A Peaceful Protest


Ayanna Najuma today

With some help from adults, Ayanna and a group of kids held a protest called a sit-in. They went into a “white” restaurant and sat at the counter. No one took their order, but they stayed until the restaurant closed.

The next day, the kids went back to the restaurant, but the waitresses still wouldn’t serve them. Soon things grew tense. Some white customers yelled at the kids and threw ketchup on them. The kids stayed calm.

During the third day, they finally got good news. The restaurant’s owners agreed to start serving black customers.

“It was a big deal,” Ayanna recently told Scholastic News. “It was a slam dunk to be able to sit there and have a hamburger and Coke.”

Ayanna and her friends weren’t done. For six years, they took part in more sit-ins. One by one, the restaurants in their area became integrated. Black people and white people could eat side by side.

“Even though I was little, my voice was just as important as everyone else’s voice,” says Ayanna.

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