[sixties-l] Sit-ins Omitted From the History Books (fwd)

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Date: Sat Mar 02 2002 - 16:16:55 EST

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    Date: Sat, 02 Mar 2002 12:54:19 -0800
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: Sit-ins Omitted From the History Books

    Sit-ins Omitted From the History Books

    by Dr. Ron Walters
    NNPA Columnist
    February 28, 2002
    <http://www.blackpressusa.com/Op-Ed/speaker.asp?SID=16&NewsID 09>

    Let me express a point of personal pride about the fact
    that I am originally from Wichita, Kan., a city on the
    midwestern plains that has a claim as the site of the
    first of the post-World War II northern sit-ins that
    began the movement in 1958 before Greensboro, N.C.
    Earlier this month, I attended a conference in Wichita
    organized by a local professor to celebrate the Civil
    Rights Movement in the Mid-west. Now, with all of the
    emphasis on the South, you wouldn't know there was such
    a thing. But there was and there is now a book out
    about it, "Dissent in Wichita," by Gretchen Eick.

    On July 5, 1958, I was among several youngsters who
    comprised the NAACP youth group and went downtown to
    Dockum Drugs, a store in the old Rexall chain. We asked
    for service and when we were refused, we promptly sat
    anyway. Thus, began a sit-in that continued until early
    August, when the store manager came out one day and
    announced that the store was losing money and that
    service would take place on a non-racial basis from
    then on.

    A few weeks later, another sit-in began in Oklahoma
    City, Okla., a few hundred miles south. This one lasted
    through the rest of the year and into 1959 and spread
    to other cities in Oklahoma. And whereas few local or
    national media would write about the 1958 Wichita sit-
    in, the Oklahoma demonstrations were widely publicized
    by local and some national media outlets.

    In fact, at the 1960 national NAACP convention, Martin
    Luther King Jr. gave awards to the NAACP youth members
    who had participated in the movement before the
    Greensboro, N.C. students went into action.

    Those of us in the NAACP youth movement were the last
    to be surprised when sit-ins began in the South. One in
    1957 involved Washington, D.C is Rev. Douglass Moore in
    Durham, N.C. The legal case that grew out of it became
    known as the Royal Ice Cream case because the sit-in
    occurred in at an ice cream parlor, not a lunch
    counter. Those who had begun this sit-in were members
    of the NAACP youth group, including Ezell Blair Jr.,
    Joe McNeil and others later involved in the 1960
    Greensboro sit-in.

    Last Sept. 7, the Wichita NAACP youth group presented a
    musical based on the 1958 sit-in, "Standing Up in the
    Heartland," which featured the "Wichita 10," as we
    were called. It was held at the old Orpheum theater
    downtown, which was segregated in 1958. Blacks had to
    sit up in the balcony rather than on the main floor
    with Whites. So, this city remembered its history in
    the civil rights struggle if no one else did.

    It was with a mixture of pride and strangeness that I
    sat in the audience watching a young man sing and play
    my character and those of the rest of us, our parents,
    Black leaders and the Whites who opposed us then. But
    the most satisfying feeling was knowing that some
    youths in this generation were being socialized into
    the deeper meaning of what it was like to be Black. As
    such, they might catch the spirit to continue to push
    for our future.

    Why were the Wichita, Oklahoma City and the Durham sit-
    ins overlooked? Some of it had to do with the way in
    which major newspapers covered the story at the time.
    The editors felt that it was a Southern story, that
    race problems in the North were mild by comparison.
    Also, the story of the movement has been generally told
    from the SNCC/SCLC point of view, not the NAACP.

    Much of this came back to mind recently when my
    Leadership Institute sponsored a presentation by James
    Foreman, who was a leader of the Student Nonviolent
    Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the 1960s. Foreman
    told us of his beginnings in struggle in Chicago as a
    young lad and how he became involved with SNCC. He told
    the young people in the audience that they should have
    the courage to change their environment if they
    perceive that it is negative and a barrier to their
    growth and development. He also said, in answer to a
    question by another presenter, Dr. Cedric Smith of
    Hobart and William Smith Colleges, that direct action
    is still needed today, and that young people today have
    at their disposal the tools of more education, planning
    and modern technology.

    Given the situation for Black America today, we still
    need a movement. But as James Foreman suggests, it will
    be up to the new generation to start one.
    Dr. Ron Walters is the Distinguished Leadership
    Scholar, Professor of Government and Politics at the
    University of Maryland and co-author of "African
    American Leadership."

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