Leader of sit-in protests dies

Published 9:32 pm Monday, August 27, 2012

A Suffolk native and civil rights activist died Saturday at the age of 75 after an illness, a family member said Monday.

The Rev. Dr. J. Rayfield Vines Jr. was arrested in 1960 after leading sit-in protests at Suffolk’s downtown lunch counters. Already a graduate of Booker T. Washington High School by that time, he went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree from Norfolk State, two master’s degrees from Virginia State University and Virginia Union University, and his Doctor of Ministry degree from Virginia Union.


He was currently the pastor of Hungary Road Baptist Church in Glen Allen and only last year ended a term as president of the Virginia State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

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Sister Vivian Turner, who still lives in Suffolk, said the family did not know until the end how sick he was because he stayed so involved.

“If somebody asked him to do something, he couldn’t say no,” she said. “He was really interested in the young people and keeping them on the right track.”

Vines also taught in school systems throughout the state, including the counties of Sussex, Buckingham and Fairfax and the cities of Petersburg and Richmond, according to his online resume.

But before all that, he was leading the charge for civil rights in Suffolk.

In the days when blacks couldn’t be served at drugstore lunch counters, Vines led the sit-in protests in Suffolk on Feb. 18-19, 1960, against F.W. Woolworth, People’s Drug Store and Rose’s Five and Dime.

He was arrested and jailed following the protests, charged with parading without a permit, unlawful group gathering, leading a mob, inciting a riot, holding a public meeting on city property without a permit from the city manager and “integrating a segregated establishment,” according to an account of the incident on an NAACP Unsung Heroes blog.

His bail was set so high that a cousin had to offer her house as collateral to bail him out. His attorneys tried unsuccessfully to argue that the ordinances were unconstitutional, and Vines was fined $150.

The protests initially failed to achieve their desired purpose. Only Woolworth’s took any action, and that was to remove all the seats from the lunch counter and serve everyone standing up. But it was a beginning that ultimately led to the integration of society, including local businesses.

“He was really liked among all the people I know,” Turner said. “I’ve never heard anybody say anything bad about him.”

A memorial service will be held at Tabernacle Christian Church, 2500 E. Washington St., Suffolk, on Thursday at 7 p.m. Richmond services will be held Saturday. He will be interred at Carver Memorial Cemetery in Suffolk.