This week marks 50 years since the Greensboro, NC, sit-ins, the historic protest which launched the Black Freedom Struggle in this country onto a new trajectory. We are seeing a lot of celebration of the courage of the four students who first sat down at the Woolworth’s lunch counter and of the chain reaction it set off.
I posted such a tribute here my own self two days back. In the course of refreshing my fading memory, via Google, to complete that piece, I found another facet of the Greensboro story. It’s one I had never come across, and one that will, I think, resonate with anyone who has spent much time in the activist trenches.
Many of us know the story of how four students on February 1 became dozens and, by February 4, hundreds, as students across North Carolina and the South girded to emulate them and launch the wave of struggles that finally killed Jim Crow.
The other side of the story has to do with the five months it took to crack the management at Woolworth’s and S.H. Kress and the rest of the Greensboro power structure.
The multiplication of protesters in that first week is now at the heart of the legend. But that level of activity was hard to sustain, especially as the students’ demands remained unmet and white hostility grew more intense.
Franklin McCain and Joseph McNeil remained part of the organizing core from Day One. McCain recalls:
What people won’t talk (about), what people don’t like to remember is that the success of that movement in Greensboro is probably attributed to no more than eight or 10 people. I can say this: when the television cameras stopped rolling and we didn’t have eight or 10 reporters left, the folk left. I mean, there were just a very faithful few. McNeil and I can’t count the nights and evenings that we literally cried because we couldn’t get people to help us staff a picket line.
I don’t know about you, but I can recall lulls in more than one campaign for justice when fatigue, frustration, setbacks and doubt had me in tears. When it happens again, and it will, I hope I remember to draw on this part of the lesson of Greensboro, not the audacity and the courage of the students, but the dogged persistence of the core they built.
Crossposted from Fire on the Mountain.