Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Greensboro Sit-Ins

Yesterday I attended a conference entitled "The Launch of the 1960s Civil Rights Protest: The 50th Anniversary of the Greensboro (North Carolina) Sit-Ins and the Formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee". It was held at the British Library Conference Centre - and had been jointly organised by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library and the Institute for the Study of the Americas, University of London.

During the day there were three panels. The first was "The Sit-Ins: Activism and Reaction". The history of the sit-ins was outlined - with a paper by John Kirk on 'The Sit-Ins and the Courts: Little Rock, Lupper and the Law, 1960-64. This described how the law was used - and described the US Supreme Court case Lupper v Arkansas. George Lewis considered "the impact of the Sit-Ins on the ideology of Southern Segregationalists - while Clive Webb discussed Southern White reactions to the Sit-Ins.

The first afternoon session dealt with the emergence and impact of the Student NonViolent Coordinating Committee. (SNCC - pronounced 'Snick'). Peter Ling argued, with an impressive use of statistics - that this was not one committee, but several. His colleague at Nottingham University, Professor Sharon Monteith, described some of the writings of key players - and how their stories (novels and short stories) give us an insight to the SNCC. Joe Street spoke of the intellectual transformation of SNCC impacted upon their view of community.

The final panel dealt with the international dimensions of the Sit-Ins. Simon Hall considered how 'Cold War Patriotism' influenced both sides of the dispute. Segregations alleged that it was a plot by Communists to attack the South's way of life - while pro-civil rights activists stressed how the actions of the segregationists was undermining the USA's role in promoting democracy around the world. Stephen Tuck described how the events affected other countries - including the UK.

A book based on the day's conference is anticipated.

The primary event in the campaign of Sit-Ins took place on 1st February 1960 -when four African-American students - Ezell A Blair Jr (later known as Jibreel Khazan); David Leinhail Richmond; Joseph Alfred McNeil and Franklin Eugene McCain - sat down in a segregated lunch counter in Woolworth's in Greensboro. They were refused service. A sit-in began and grew over the following days. A website on the subject can be found here.

An interview with Franklin McCain can be listened to -