How a Lunch Counter Sit-In Became an Iconic Civil Rights Moment — SFA


♫ Yes let us break bread together ♫ We’re on our knees ♫ Let us break bread together ♫ We’re on our knees ♫ Let us fall while on on our knees ♫ Turn our face to the rising sun ♫ Crying Lord have mercy if you please – The breaking of bread. The coming together. You even feed your enemy. – The south was completely segregated. Black and white lived in separate worlds. – People can hardly imagine now that there were signs up showing colored
waiting room was this way and the white waiting room is over here. – These people just cannot in their heads come to understand that not only do we look like you, walk
like you, talk like you, we’re human like you. – [Bill] Jackson was really
behind what was happening in the other southern states. – Now I had been very good at memorizing all the bible verses. A lot of the ones we were
given were how to live, like love thy neighbor as thyself, do unto others as you would
have them do unto you, but clearly we weren’t doing it. We were a bunch of hypocrites. We needed to change. (blues guitar music) – There were several grades
of activist back then. I mean you had like the street level and then you had people in
institutions of higher learning. – Tougaloo was dedicated
to not just education but also what seems to me
an experiment in democracy. – You had faculty like John Salter. He challenged his students to think about what are some of the social problems that we must contend with. How are you going to change them? (guitar music) – We decided we would do the sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter. – Now Woolworth was we
called a five and dime. Think dollar store with
a food court. (laughs) – [Bill] They sold hotdogs and hamburgers. – Everyone shopped at a five and dime. Everyone could afford it, and to not be welcomed as a customer at this one part of the
store, the lunch counter, that was morally and legally indefensible. (acoustic guitar music) Anne Moody, Pearlena, and Memphis Norman, all of whom were Tougaloo students, were gonna sit at the counter, and then there was gonna be a diversionary sort of picket line down the street. The idea I think being
that the picket line would divert the police attention while people got seated. – They would be a decoy, and they became the
most photographed sit-in in the history of the sit-in movement. – Lois Chaffee, who was a house mother, though she was only a year
or two older than us at most, she and I were gonna be the
spotters for the picket line. We would call back to Medgar Evers office and give a report periodically. Well, the picket line
got arrested right away, so we decided we’d just go down
and see what was happening. Basically what was happening was all hell was breaking loose. – This was the lunch hour, so students at Central High
School had a lunch break and it was just a few blocks
away so they walked over. This is a very conflicting scene. – I conferred with Ed
King, who was the spotter, about should I sit down? And yes, I should. Then Annie and I got pulled off our stools and drug up to the front of the store. – It was very theatrical. – The main weapons were whatever was sitting on the counter, and I mean this is everything
from vinegar to pepper to sugar to sometimes a fist. – At the end of the day it’s
about humiliating people. It’s to bring a person to
their knees psychologically. – The Supreme Court had ruled,
I think the week before, that the police of their own initiative could not come into a
store to make arrests. The store had to be closed by the manager. And they thought this was just
real funny, these police did. (acoustic guitar music) – Memphis Norman was thrown
to the floor, kicked, beaten, unconscious, blood coming
out his nose, mouth. Medgar said, “Well,
should we call it off?” – We were committed to sitting there. When it got really looking like we might not make it out of there, I had sort of an out of body experience. Your real self just
sort of leaves, departs, surreal you might say,
but I think it’s survival. And at that point survival
was a doubt, yeah. (acoustic guitar music) – The pictures were
shown around the world. By the next day there
are people volunteering, ready to do things. Suddenly we were visible. – I mean this is not
to take away from King, but to reduce the civil
rights movement to Rosa Parks and Dr. King makes everyday
folks like you and me look like we can’t do
anything except follow. The students today have to see that they can identify their cause
and go change the world. And us old folks now, our
role is to have their back. (acoustic guitar music)

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