Friday, August 30, 2013

Last Post on Q Notes: Lessons From a Sit In

My last column in Q Notes, "Lessons from a Sit In"

Almost hidden from the public behind a main stair case in the large James E. Shepard Library at North Carolina Central University in Durham, N.C., is what remains from Durham’s F. W. Woolworth lunch counter. The formica counter top, the bright orange plastic seats, and the chromium spokes that made up the back of the seats look out of date in the modern library building. My Ethics and English’ classes begin at this historic point in the civil-rights movement: the sit-in at Durham’s Woolworth lunch counter on February 8, 1960. Durham’s anti-segregation sit-in followed a similar protest in Greensboro a week earlier. Organized by the NAACP chapter at North Carolina College (now NCCU), students Lacy Streeter, Callis Brown, Robert Kornegay. The sit-in got the attention of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Rev. David Abernathy, who came to visit Durham’s Woolworth’s lunch counter on Feb. 16. The store closed the counter after the sit-in demonstration and the students moved on to protest at other stores. On Feb. 16, Dr. King preached at Durham’s White Rock Baptist Church, delivering the famous “Fill Up the Jails” speech, in which he advocated non-violent confrontation with segregationists for the first time in the South.
The sit-ins of Woolworth lunch counters spread from Greensboro and Durham, N.C., throughout the Southeast. In Lee Daniel’s movie, “The Butler”, one powerful scene took place in a Woolworth building in Tennessee, with the re-enactment of the violent reaction against African American young people simply sitting non-violently in the “white’s only” section of the lunch counter. In his “Letters from a Birmingham Jail,” King himself refers to the power of the simple non-violent sit-in movement as a way to combat racism and racial segregation in Birmingham, Ala., and other cities in the South (April 16, 1963).

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