In 1953, seven years before the formal launch of the sit-in movement, students from Morgan State College were lining up daily at the lunch counter of Read’s drugstore, the Washington Post reports. There, some manager or anxious waitress would recite the Maryland trespassing statute and ask them to leave. Scholars at the historically black university believe that they were the first students in the nation to organize sit-ins for desegregation. This week, their role in the nation’s civil rights movement was finally honored.

“Please rise,” said Larry Gibson, a University of Maryland law professor, addressing a standing-room-only crowd in Morgan State’s...

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