Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Woolworth Sit-ins & Jim Crow Laws

Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and other sit-ins and demonstrations destroyed Jim Crow laws and changed civil rights.

Alexandria Library 
Sit-in & Arrest
Even libraries were 
segregated. Those 
participating in sit-ins 
were punished  and jailed.

George Zimmerman Family
Photo: CNN
Great Grandfather
Mother, the infant

Those historic civil rights actions are being remembered as protesters demonstrate against the George Zimmerman verdict.

How do the more recent demonstrations against Trayvon Martin's death in the Zimmerman case differ from historic civil rights marches? One difference is that historic protests were aimed at crushing Jim Crow laws, a specific set of statues written especially to discriminate against former slaves after the Civil War. These laws were supported, in part, by organized racist groups that were formed to enforce Jim Crow laws, outside the real law. On the contrary, protests of the George Zimmerman verdict in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin are not aimed specifically at any group of persons organized to destroy freedom of people of color or interfere with their ability to get an education. Right?

Some say that the system is structured against people of color and interferes with their education and their freedom. The question that arises in the Zimmerman case is: Who are the people of color? Certainly Trayvon Martin is a person of color. But what about George Zimmerman, whose great grandfather is said to be a black man? Wouldn't that make George Zimmerman a black man? The one drop rule would certainly apply here. Historically, if it can be shown by a person's appearance or demonstrated in a person's bloodline that African heritage is present, then the person is classified as black. If George Zimmerman is technically a black man, how can the death of Trayvon Martin be a white-on-black offense and not black-on-black? I'm simply asking questions. Please, provide your own answers.

The Woolworth Sit-ins starting in 1960 were not the only sit-ins or the first protests of Jim Crow laws. Throughout the  history of slavery in the United States, people demonstrated against violent treatment. After emancipation, people demonstrated against violent treatment and inferior access to services and facilities. One hundred years later, people were demonstrating to be allowed to vote.

This article is intended to look back at little known protests and figures leading up to the modern Civil Rights Movement, which some say stated officially when Rosa Parks ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott and launch Martin Luther King as the leader of the movement.

In 1939, African-American civil rights attorney Samuel Wilbert Tucker, organizer of a sit-in to desegregate the Alexandria, Virginia library. Tucker, was born 100 years ago on June 18, 1913, the same year as Rosa Parks

Tucker, born in Alexandria, Virginia, rose to the rank of Major in the United States Army during World War II, spent most of life, since age 14 when he refused to give up his seat on a streetcar to a white passenger, fighting Jim Crow laws and leading the cause for civil rights.

Virginia public library case was an early example of the non-violent Civil Rights Movement, led by Martin Luther King, that would spread across the nation through the 1960s. These protests were intended to give the word public it true meaning that included African Americans and other people of color in the access to public facilities and services, and equal education, to prepare them for a college education.

That same year, 1939, Marian Anderson's attempt to defy Jim Crow laws launched her as the voice of civil rights. 

Marian Anderson was not just an important American singer, she was a U.S. civil rights leader in her own right. Choosing to sing opera and recital music, Anderson brought classical music to the African American community as well as to the world. Much of her career was centered in Europe because of Jim Crow laws in the United States.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt & Marian Anderson
On the eve of World War II (WWII), Anderson and many others--like A. Philip Randolph, labeled the most dangerous black man in America--played a crucial role in fueling the Civil Rights Movement when she and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt put their heads together and arranged for the Lincoln Memorial performance after Marian Anderson was snubbed by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR, the organization in charge of Constitution Hall in Washington DC. When Jim Crow laws prevented Anderson from singing at Constitution Hall, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt helped to arrange a concert for Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial, where the African American opera singer drew an audience of more than 75,000. Read more about Marian Anderson, Jim Crow laws and Civil rights.

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In 1942, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) sponsored sit-ins in Chicago, in St. Louis in 1949 and Baltimore in 1952.

Rosa Parks had challenged Jim Crow laws in Montgomery bus policy twelve years before she boarded the bus on December 1, 1955, and started the Nine months before the boycott, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin was dragged off a Montgomery bus by police, handcuffed and jailed on March 2, 1955. Her case, got little notice and no support. Review and purchase Claudette Colvin at links on left. In 1943, Parks refused to board the bus using a rear entry, the door for black bus riders. Parks and her mother had always refused to enter the bus through the rear door, while other black riders had to use the rear door. 

Book: Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
Claudette Colvin: 
Twice Toward Justice 
by Hoose, Phillip M. 
(Google Affiliate Ad)

On March 2, 1955, nine months before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin was dragged off a Montgomery bus by police, handcuffed and jailed, but her case, got little notice and no support. 

At the end of 1955, Rosa Parks ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott and helped to launch Martin Luther King as the leader of the Civil Rights Movement. This legacy affected civil rights and race relations in America from Jim Crow city buses to black actors in Hollywood films

In 1957, a minister organized student non-violent sit-ins in Durham, North Carolina at the Royal Ice Cream Shop. The protesters were arrested for trying to occupy the whites only section of the business. After being convicted in North Carolina courts, the seven appealed their case in the United States Supreme Court. The high court refused to hear the case.

An Oklahoma I Had Never 
Seen Before: Alternative
Views of Oklahoma His
(Google Affiliate Ad)

On August 19, 1958, Clara Luper, private citizen and mother of two, staged the most effective anti-Jim Crow law luncheon counter sit-in in American history before the Woolworth sit-ins some two years later. Luper, frustrated with segregation in her hometown of Oklahoma City decided to take action. 

By the late 1950s, the Civil Rights Movement had officially begun and individuals and groups nationwide were organizing protests of Jim Cow laws.

Clara Luper led twelve children from the Oklahoma City NAACP Youth Council, including her own children, to desegregate a drugstore lunch-counter. Clara Luper and the children began a six-year series of sit-ins at other lunch counters, restaurants, and cafes in Oklahoma City, leading to desegregation in three other states.

Woolworth Sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960

Woolworth Sit-ins 1960
The Woolworth Sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960 occurred two years after Clara Luper protested in Oklahoma City.

The Woolworth sit-ins were more influential in changing Jim Crow laws because they received national attention in the mainstream and black presses, drawing attention to the growing need to change Jim Crow laws. In some ways the Woolworth sit-ins were a culmination of the civil rights protests of the 1950s, which picked up in momentum in the 1960s and raised awareness to a new level under the leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King.

Rosa Parks
Woolworth's Sit-ins, Rosa Parks and Jim Crow LawsWoolworth's sit-ins, riding the waves of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Greensboro Four helped to destroy Jim Crow laws by integrating lunch counters and making getting into college and good public schools possible for black students.

Morrill Land Grant College Acts, Jim Crow & Woolworth'sThe 1890 Morrill Land Grant College Act required that former Jim Crow law Confederate states make getting into college possible for African Americans.

When we compare these historic civil rights struggles with crowds wandering aimlessly on the streets of some cities professing to protest the shooting death of Trayvon Marting at the hands of George Zimmerman, the motives seem a little week against those of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, the Greensboro Four, the Freedom Riders, Brown v the Board of Education, and so many others. You may begin to wonder, yourself, if this current protest is perhaps a mere hijacking of Trayvon Martin's death and the George Zimmerman verdict to use a boy who has died and his grieving family for selfish political reasons that have little to do with freedom, education or justice.

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Sunny Nash is the author of Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's (Texas A&M University Press), about life in the Brazos Valley with her part-Comanche grandmother during the Civil Rights Movement. Nash’s book is recognized by the Association of American University Presses as essential for understanding U.S. race relations; listed in the Bibliographic Guide to Black Studies by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York; and recommended for Native American collections by the Miami-Dade Public Library System in Florida. 

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Sunny Nash
Sunny Nash
Sunny Nash--author, producer, photographer and leading writer on U.S. race relations in--writes books, blogs, articles and reviews, and produces media and images on U.S. history and contemporary American topics, ranging from Jim Crow laws to social media networking, Nash uses her book to write articles and blogs on race relations in America through topics relating to her life--from music, film, early radio and television, entertainment, social media, Internet technology, publishing, journalism, sports, education, employment, the military, fashion, performing arts, literature, women's issues, adolescence and childhood, equal rights, social and political movements--past and present—to today's post-racism.

Lyndon Johnson Civil Rights Act of 1964 
Destroyed Jim Crow laws in the federal 
legal system of the United States.


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