CORE and the Diamond Department Store

Elizabeth Gilmore Collection

November 6, 1958

Associated Dry Goods Corporation
Mr. Robert McKim, Chairman
261 Madison Avenue
New York, New York

Dear Sir:

On August 11, 1958, a committee of five CORE members, four Negroes and one White, were granted an interview with Mr. William H. McKim, Manager of The Diamond Department Store in Charleston, the purpose of this meeting was to seek a ceasation [sic] of the practice at the store of discrimination against Negro customers by refusing to serve them at the first floor foundation and in the fifth floor cafeteria.

During the interview the following facts were set forth for Mr. McKim's elucidation, since he is a comparative stranger in Charleston. First the 'Integration' picture

WEST Virginia State College with an enrollment of over two thousand students, and all public schools are completely integrated, and this change-over was accomplished without incident of any kind; The YWCA is integrated and carries the following statement on all schedules, "All facilities in this organization are open to women and girls of all races and religions." Child Care Center, our local day care agency, completely integrated, children and teachers; Blossom Dairy, two stores in midtown, both serving Negroes; Woodrum's Tea Room, one of Charleston[']s most beautiful and most popular dining centers listing among its clientell [sic] the aristocracy of this area has served all customers, black or white since it opened over three years ago. The Grayhound [sic] Post House located in the downtown bus terminal, five Shoney's drive-in and restaurant establishments, The Kanawha Airport Dining Room and Coffee Shop; Woolworth's Five and Ten Cent Store Restaurant Kresge's Variety Store Cafeteria; Newberry's Variety Store Restaurant; The Valley Bell eight dairy store luncheonette and Kroger Super Market Lunch Counters sll [sic] serve any customer who presents himself and NONE have suffered any loss of patronage or prestige and there has never been one istance of unpleasantness because of the absence of racial bigotry on the part of these establishments.

One of our committee being a Minister pointed out to Mr. McKim the unfairness and unchristian attitude of the management at the Diamond, another being a business person pointed out the complete lack of sound business principles in offending an entire segment of customers and the disregard of the value of every buyer to every seller. Another member of the committee being Caucasian gave the viewpoint of the white customer regarding acceptance of Negroes in the ever-changing pattern of today's world.

After an hours interchange with Mr. McKim he informed us that we might better understand his position if we knew that he had been born in Missouri, spent his childhood in Mississippi and Florida and learned the merchandising trade in Alabama. This information of course gave us a better insight of the man[']s true nature, nut [sic] it did not erase the fact that we were seeking a solution to a problem in Charleston, West Virginia. Mr. McKim closed the interview by giving us his word to take the matter to his Board of Directors and to give us their decision on October 1st.

Having heard nothing from him on October 8, we called and he agreed to talk to one member of our CORE group. Our Mrs. Gilmore, Secretary for CORE was chosen to keep this appointment on October 9, at 10:00 A.M. At this meeting Mr. McKim stated that his Board of Directors had discussed at length the matter of admitting Negroes to the Cafeteria and fountain and had voted 100% against the proposal. He stated that he believed such a move would not be in the best interest of the store, and his white customers being in a majority would certainly be offended if Negroes were admitted and if the refusal offended his Negro customers a withdrawal on their part would have little if any effect on the business.

CORE immediately, though the thirty-one (31) churches attended by Negroes in this area, relayed Mr. McKims statement to our people, and they decided to withdraw in every way possible from an organization whose managing personnel had made so complete an avowal of their racial antagonism and bigotry. This withdrawal began at once, Negroes either froze their accounts untill [sic] such time as they could be paid out, or closed them completely, and very few if any Negroes in this area will be sen on the public streets with a Diamond package. On Monday past only seven Negroes entered the store and three of these went in to close their accounts and two to make payments.

Negroes are firmly determined to no longer stand silently by and accept this type of racial abuse. The Diamond Department Store was built and prospers on the profits from merchandise sold and Negroes have spent thousands of dollars at the Diamond, thus we have a vested interest in the business. We are asking no special dispensation but we are demanding that we be meted the very same respect and treatment as any other customer. And untill [sic] such time as all the facilities of the Diamond are open to all customers alike, we shall continue to withhold our patronage.

As you know, habit is one of the strongest forces in human nature and many Diamond customers are fast learning that they can purchase satisfactory name brand merchandise in our other marts, and with acclimatization thses [sic] former Diamond customers will remain where they are rather that [sic] experience the inconvenience of returning to your store. Every department store in Charleston has knowledge of the withdrawal from the Diamond and they are expending every effort to woo and win these customers forced out from your store, and having wooed and won them, they will also expend every effort to amke [sic] these customers their very own on a permanent basis. The longer the Diamond persists in its present discriminatory practice the less inclined our people will be to return. The length of time involved is indicative of the depth of the racial antogonism [sic] existant [sic] and every day that passes magnifies the affront to the Negro race.

We can furnish you with a list of the persons Negro and White who have either frozen or closed their accounts or perhaps you might like to have some member of your staff check the situation in person. We believe this situation could be resolved to the best interest of all concerned, its magnitude lies only in the fears of persons unwilling and in some instances unable to face the reality of adjusting to the standards of today. For your information this is not just a Negro-White involvment [sic], Core has many White and Jewish friends who are supporting us in this endeavor, and who believe with us that the time has long since passed for the eradication of this type of un-American and Un-Christian action.

The desire for freedom from racial oppression is utterly useless unless it is incorporated with the willingness to take a strong stand and give unfailing support to any measure which might reasonably contribute to a change in the unsatisfactory conditions, so as a visible protest against the policy at the Diamond, CORE representatives stand for a given period each day to tell to interested persons the CORE story and the reason for their presence at the store. Although CORE is dedicated to nonviolence, it is also dedicated to 'direct action' and we believe that the power of good through education and example will in due time vanquish the power of evil.

We have set forth the truth as we KNOW it and we prayerfully hope this letter may in some degree expedite the solution of this problem.

CORE, For A Better World,

, Co-Chairman
, Secretary for CORE

African Americans

West Virginia Archives and History