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How Did Students for Non-Violent Protests in the 1960s?

Racial discrimination still exists up until today. However, the extent of discrimination back in the 1960s was definitely worse. Did you know that the early proponents of racial equality had to undergo rigorous training so that they could carry out an effective yet non-violent protest?

Historically Black colleges’ high school and college students prepared for sit-in harassment by undergoing some extreme training scenarios such as smoke-blowing, hair-pulling, chair-jostling, coffee-spilling, and name-calling.

The Sit-In Movement

The sit-in movement first began in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960. It was a non-violent civil rights movement which was an act of civil disobedience and a tactic used by African Americans to arouse sympathy among uninvolved spectators.

The movement originated from the sit-down tactic used by union workers during the 1930s. The sit-down was first used in the US during the United Automobile Workers’ strike against General Motors in 1937. The early version of the sit-in was staged by the Congress of Racial Equality, or CORE, in 1942 to promote anti-segregation in a Chicago coffee shop.

On February 1, 1960, four African American freshmen from the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina visited an F.W. Woolworth department store. They then sat down at the whites-only lunch counter and proceeded to order but were refused service.

Service was refused because even though they were allowed to patronize the dining area, blacks were only allowed to occupy a standing snack bar. They remained seated, and when asked to leave, they refused to do so and stayed until the shop closed. The police could not remove the students, arguing that they were paying customers as they had previously shopped in the store and had not taken any violent actions.

The next day, the students returned to shop, along with more than a dozen other students. Soon, interest in joining the sit-in protests was widespread in the college, a historically Black college. The movement spread to Salisbury, North Carolina; San Antonio, Texas; and Chattanooga, Tennessee. Local officials and business owners desegregated their facilities after local sit-ins were conducted.

Thenon-violentt and courteous behavior of the Black sit-in protesters played well on local and national television. It showed them to be responsible people, and the cruelty of the segregation system was exposed. Civil rights organizations became involved and organized training sessions for participants. (Source: Britannica)

Preparing for Protest

The peaceful demonstration of legal rights and respect was because the participants often took the moral high ground. Protestors often face violent and aggressive harassment when they conduct their sit-in protests. To help the protestors prepare for the sit-in, CORE and SCLC, or the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, held workshops to instruct tactics and instill the idea of nonviolence to increase the power and scope of the movement.

The social drama course subjects its participants with scenarios they will likely encounter as they commence a sit-in protest. Protestors were expected to neither flinch nor retaliate when they were faced with any or all of these situations:

  • Cigarette smoke blown to their faces
  • Their hair is pulled
  • Their heads are swatted with a rolled-up newspaper
  • Coffee or any drink is spilled intentionally to them
  • Their chair is jostled
  • Any aggressive behavior in response to their protest

Those who get angry automatically fail the course. (Source: Britannica)

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