The Sit-in Movement: Bringing Rights to All in America
Caleb Arena - Crispell Middle School, 7th Grade
Four young African-American men walk into the Woolworth store in Greensboro, North Carolina. It's February 1960, segregation between the white and black community is all across the south in the United States. The four young men sit down at the white-only lunch counter, eyes beating on them in disgust, and asked to be served. These four men are Ezell Blair, Jr. Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil and David Richmond, a group of African-American college students known as the Greensboro Four. It is thought that they did the first recognized and important sit-in against segregation in stores and restaurants. The sit-in movement in America brought about positive social change and expanded human rights.
In the 1960's and throughout years before, it was a tough era for African-American people in the United States to work, survive, and to have rights. This was because of segregation between the white and black populations. Segregation is the action of setting someone or something apart from other people or activities, in this case, separation due to race. Because of this discrimination in race, the black community did not have certain rights such as the right to vote in certain areas. They also did not have certain privileges in the U.S. such as using the front door in stores or movie theaters, and ordering food at the front counter of a food joint. This limit of rights, privileges, and unjustifiable treatment and discrimination against the African-American community made living in the United States tough and cruel.
The group of African-American college students stood up for their rights on
February 1, 1960. But what made them stand up for their rights, and why did they not have certain rights? One clear reason was because African-Americans could not use, be in, or do actions white people could do such as being seated at a movie theater or drinking at a water fountain. An example of this unjust segregation, which was the Greensboro Fours final tipping point, was at the Woolworth store in North Carolina. The stores had segregation rules in place that, if you were black, you can buy from the store, but you cannot sit and eat at the lunch counter. That unjust, unnecessary rule was seen by the young men and they…" decided to take direct action against the segregated lunch counter"(Harris 1). The segregation and treatment of the black community lead to the African-American people standing up for their rights, and the Greensboro Four were the first to say no more.
When the Greensboro Four experience this unlawful treatment and their rights being ignored, they took action. When they carried out their plan, they sat at a white-only lunch counter and asked to be served. When the workers refused to serve them, they sat and waited. Even when they were being attack, called ugly names, burned with cigarettes, and other acts of violence from angry customers and people, they did not fight back ('The Sit-In Movement"). With the courage that they showed by not fighting back when provoked, they hoped to get equal rights at restaurants. They did just that and more because of the world seeing the injustice taking place in the south, which led to many more people joining and supporting the movement. Their sit-in demonstration led to many more sit-ins across the U.S., which eventually led to the desegregation of restaurants, libraries, swimming pools, and churches in the South (Harris 1). Therefore, the Greensboro Four and other civil rights activists showed moral courage by stepping up to the plate, and they hit a homerun.
To accomplish this act to get justice the group needed a rule to follow so that they could carry out a sit-in that will make a point for their cause. According to the text, "The instructions were simple: sit quietly and wait to be served" ("The Sit-In Movement" 1). Using this rule, they went into the store, politely order coffee, and when the employees refused, they quietly sat at the counter and politely waited to be served. They also had a back-up plan when police arrested the demonstrators. More would come and take the seats and kept the sit-in going. But in order to keep the sit-ins going, they would need to grow in numbers to support this movement. For example the text states, "The group declared double that number will take places at the counter tomorrow" (Sykes 1). This statement from a news article, that was published the day after the Greensboro Four did their sit-in, was talking about another sit-in, this one with 20 students. This shows that the idea of standing up for your rights was spreading and was going to keep spreading. With more people joining the movement, the sit-ins were able to make it clear that segregation was wrong.
Today, we can learn how to stand up to social injustices from the Greensboro Four's sit-in movement and how their idea was successful. We see that no matter the consequences, you can do what you have to do to show how your cause will make a difference in our everyday lives. This is seen when the sit-in idea eventually ended segregation in restaurants and other public places. The demonstrators spread an idea around that they could make a difference in everyone's lives. Something in the world today that we can apply this idea to is the fact that women earn less money than men when doing the same kind of work. If women stood up for their rights and protested against this problem like the Greensboro Four did, there is a stronger possibility that things will change in their favor.
Students today can combat prejudice and hate by standing up to it, and make a point to oppose it. As seen by the Greensboro Four, they recognized the unjust treatment and un-equal rights they had suffered at the hands of the white population. So, they made a plan to get equality by non-violently opposing the rules of the community and start a movement that was against segregation. Today, we have a major bullying problem in schools all over the United States, and we can use the ideas of the sit-in movement to combat bullying. We can spread the idea around, as we have seen with the sit-in movement, and know that it could be effective at making an "anti-bully group" that could use non-violent acts to stop bullying. An idea that we could use is showing stories of people who were bullied or tell stories that altered people's lives forever such as suicide stories. Although hard, these stories could reach into bullies' minds and make them stop their behavior. If this idea of combating prejudice and hate is used, it will be something that is closer to how Greensboro Four responded. If you see a student being bullied, bystanders can stand up for the student immediately and stay with the victim until the bullying stops.
The sit-in movement in America brought about positive social change and expanded human rights. Because of the brave acts that Ezell Blair, Jr., Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond and many more, the United States of America was changed forever by giving equal rights to everyone. This event and its outcome can be used as inspiration to combat prejudice and hate because of its level of accomplishments by using non-violent acts to make change.
Nicole Rodriguez - Washingtonville High School, 12th Grade
Two years ago. Two years ago, I was eighteen. Two years ago, I was like any other student attending university. Two years ago, I made a decision that would change my life in the hopes of changing the lives of others. Two years ago, it was 1964. Two years ago, I became an upstander.
It all started with a man named Robert Moses. I had heard about him previously; word was that he was field secretary for SNCC, and that he directed the Mississippi Project the following year in attempt to try to register African American voters in Pike and Amite County. By the time I met him, he had already become the Co-Director of the COFO, and the main organizer of the Freedom Summer project, the project with the aim to end racial disfranchisement by attaining widespread voter registration of African Americans in Mississippi. The project for which Moses would recruit myself and other college students from across the states. As volunteers we would staff Freedom schools and community centers, as well as participate in door-to-door organizing in the Mississippi counties in order to demonstrate African Americans' wish to vote.
The fact of the matter was, however, that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. June twenty-first, as us volunteers were settling in and training in nonviolent resistance, three were reported missing. Two volunteers from New York with the names Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, and my new friend James Chaney, a local African American. James and I spoke before he left that day, he was heading out with a couple others to investigate a church bombing near Philadelphia. When he didn't return right away, I didn't think much of it, didn't think I had to. It wasn't until six weeks later that the gravity of the situation would reveal itself, along with James' body buried in an earthen dam.
According to the FBI, James and the others were arrested on an alleged traffic violation and murdered thereafter. The questions they couldn't answer were the ones that seemed to matter the most. Why had the investigation taken six weeks? Why, despite the threats surrounding us, was there a lack of federal protection for the volunteers? Why, did my friend and fellow volunteers have to be beaten and killed before the long-pending civil rights bill would be passed in Congress? These questions would remain unanswered, and distrust would soon wedge its way between us African Americans and Whites. Would the investigation have been faster if all three victims had been White? Would the country's outcry and passing of the civil rights bill have still occurred, say, if all three victims had been African American? We, the volunteers who had once worked together in effort to stop such segregation, were instead feeding into it.
Moses took us aside. He told us, in that quiet manner of his, that we had a choice. We had seen first-hand what could happen as consequence to our presence here. He said we had every right to go home, no one would blame us for doing so. He told us, we had a choice. And despite the suspicion, despite the fear, we made a choice. A unanimous choice.
For almost a hundred years, segregation had prevented majority of Mississippi's African Americans from voting or holding public office. From houses, to schools, and even public accommodations, African Americans of Mississippi had been continuously denied access to political or economic power. Many battled poverty, a battle they were destined to lose due to being indebted to White banks or plantation owners. Fear was a commodity for them, due to White supremacy groups like the Ku Klux Klan. And when they tried to fight back? They'd be tortured, raped, arrested, fired, and evicted from their homes. Or beaten and killed. Like James. Just because of his skin color. Just because injustice and hatred reigned.
We were there for a reason, the SNCC and CORE leaders believed we could expose the conditions, and help get media attention that could force the federal government to enforce civil rights laws that local officials ignored. They believed we could help the African Americans of Mississippi organize a new political party that, one voting rights were won, could compete against the mainstream Democratic Party.
That, is why they recruited nearly fifteen hundred volunteers to work there. That, is why volunteers from colleges, clergy, attorneys, and medical professionals alike were there. That, is why more than sixty-thousand African Americans of Mississippi were risking their lives to attend local meetings, choose candidates, and vote in the Freedom Election. That, is why hundreds of African American families were hosting volunteers, White and African American, in their homes.
That, is why we chose to stay. We chose to be upstanders when we were recruited, and we chose to stand by that decision.
In the end, the Freedom Summer Campaign wasn't as successfull as we had hoped. Only a few hundred more African American voters were able to register, and despite the fact that the MFDP convention brought in hundreds of people and the new party was successfully created, the Democratic National Convention did not recognize them as party leaders and would not provide them with seats. We didn’t win.
But we didn't lose. In twenty communities, greater than forty Freedom Schools were established. More than two thousand students enrolled in classes, and almost two hundred teachers taught. And the SNCC and CORE were correct in thinking we could increase the media coverage of the harassment and reprisals against the African Americans of Mississippi. From October thirty-first to November second, during the unofficial Freedom Vote, greater than sixty two thousand people cast ballots regardless of threats such as shootings and beatings. To top it off, in most counties, the Democratic Party voters were actually outnumbered by the Freedom Voters.
I made a choice two years ago, and I intend to stand by it for the rest of my life. I choose freedom. I choose sacrifice. I choose James. I choose change.
I choose to be an upstander.
Now, I return to the year 2015, when I am writing this essay in the narrative of a White volunteer during the Freedom Summer Campaign of 1964. While I will never be able to truly feel the pain and loss and anger and drive of those involved in this event, I know one thing for sure. I am a writer, and I have the power of empathy. For as long as I live, I will translate my emotions and thoughts into words, and I hope that maybe, just maybe, they will inspire others to choose.
To choose to be an upstander.