Sunday, January 17, 2010

Charlotte Observer relates role of North Carolina in civil right movement

As part of its observance of Martin Luther King's birthday, the Charlotte Observer notes the role the state of South Carolina had in the civil rights movement:

This week, as North Carolina celebrates King's birth, it will also remember the thousands of students - many of them from North Carolina - who risked beatings and even murder to integrate lunch counters, buses, hotels, schools and voting booths.

"I knew I could be killed, but it didn't matter," remembers the Rev. David Forbes of Raleigh, one of the founding members of SNCC. "It was time. If we had to give up some blood, so be it."

It started with a sit-in

On Feb. 1, 1960, students from the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina (now N.C. A&T State University) sat down at a Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, kicking off a wave of student-led sit-ins that led to violent confrontations, and eventually desegregation, in restaurants across the South. The idea spread like wildfire, mobilizing thousands of students - and King saw an opportunity.

In April 1960, his group, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, pulled together a meeting of student leaders from all over the South. They chose to hold it at Shaw University, home to an active student movement and the alma mater of one of King's top aides, Ella Baker.

The idea was to harness the collective energy of students, who until then had been protesting in isolated groups within their own cities, and coordinate nonviolent protests.

At the time, Forbes was a Shaw student and the head of the Raleigh Sit-In Movement. Earlier that year, he had organized Raleigh's first sit-in at a downtown Woolworth. He had earned the distinction of being the first sit-in protester arrested in the Capital City.

He and hundreds of fellow students were gathering nearly every night to discuss strategy and train in nonviolent protest tactics, inspired by King. Their philosophy was to dress well, treat people respectfully and never to fight back against violent attacks. They learned to cover their heads and turn their backs to the blows.

"As King would say, love is more powerful than dynamite," Forbes said. "White folks use dogs and tanks and dynamite. White folks can quell riots, but they had not had any experience in dealing with love and passivity."

No comments: