February 1st 53 years later

There may be a quick mention on the evening news.  If you walk away from the TV or glance away from the newspaper because you are distracted by something, you may miss it completely.

53 years ago a small group of young Black college students engaged in an act of civil disobedience that caught the attention of the entire country.  Refusing to move from the lunch counters at Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, they sparked a movement that swept the country.  Sit-ins, made famous in the 1930s through the actions of workers fighting for unionization and collective bargaining, reemerged on the scene.

It is difficult today to appreciate the courage of those who engaged in these protests.  They not only faced the possibility of arrest, but they also faced the possibility of death at the hands of white supremacists.  Yet they stood tall, and inspired others to do likewise, thereby making an invaluable contribution to the Civil Rights Movement.

There is another piece to this story that is worth noting.  Although there was a wave of sit-ins, not everyone sat-in.  It also did not go on forever.  Let me clarify this.  First, the sit-ins were conducted by a core of activists, much as took place in the 1930s with workers.  Over the years myths have developed and you would almost think that the entire Black South engaged in sit-ins in the aftermath of the February 1, 1960 action in Greensboro.  No, it did not quite work out that way.  The sit-ins, however, helped to change the discussion and they also prodded others to engage in various forms of protest even if they were not willing or able to participate in sit-ins.

The second piece is that the wave of sit-ins died down.  While the tactic continued to be used–and is used to this day–there was something very special about that initial moment, something analogous to the way many people felt in watching (or participating in) the Occupy Movement.  In both cases, the tactic of the moment eventually petered out.  This does not in any way mean that either was a failure.   It is simply illustrative of the ups and down that occur in movements.  The critical lesson here is that in the midst of the excitement of a tactic or movement catching on, the leaders must anticipate the moment of decline.  They must prepare for that so that the decline does not become a collapse.

The 1960s sit-ins were a shot in the arm for the Civil Rights Movement, inspiring young activists to mobilize and create organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Northern Student Movement, and many others.  It also laid the foundation for other movements such as that against US aggression in Vietnam.

So, if you have not already, take a moment to thank those who had the courage of their convictions.  Put up a post somewhere.  Have a talk with your friends and family.  Resistance, as demonstrated on February 1, 1960, is not only possible…it is essential!

2 thoughts on “February 1st 53 years later

  1. I cant thank you enough Bill Fletcher. I’m no groupie but your words crystalize and galvanize– helping me to explain to others (and myself) something I SORT OF know or feel, but with such precision and context, raising the thought., the fact, the remembrance to be seen in a new and action-packed light.
    If we could publish a photographic/illustrated/art-oriented version with your words here, we could reach a lot of folks.
    Thank you for mentioning Occupy. I was recently taken aback when a progressive guy near and dear to me (who supported Occupy 13 months ago— told me that OWS was silly. You have given me a better way to respond than my initial reply.

    • Thanks so much for this note. If you have suggestions regarding an illustrated version, i am all ears! Not my expertise, but i hear your poilnt.
      Thanks, again.

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