As I sat in the Civic Center, I noticed the four stools sitting at the counter. The setting was for the reenactment of the 1960 Greensboro Woolworth Sit-In. The skit was performed during the Dr. Martin Luther King event held by the Multi-Cultural Business Committee of the Clinton – Sampson Chamber of Commerce last Monday.
The program for the event described the Sit-In. It read, “The Greensboro sit-ins were a series of nonviolent protests in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960, which led to the Woolworth department store chain removing its policy of racial segregation in the southern United States. While not the first sit-ins of the African American Civil Rights Movement, the Greensboro sit-ins were an instrumental action, and also the most well-known sit-ins of the Civil Rights Movement. These sit-ins lead to increased national sentiment at a crucial period in U.S. history.”
The skit was thought provoking, seeing the courage and determination of the four young men who began the sit-in. The acting and narration really helped dramatize the events of over fifty years ago. I had to leave the program early to pick up my grandson. But the sit-in skit was still on my mind. Fifty years can really change your perspective.
I was a young kid back in the early 1960’s. Seeing the events of the early civil rights struggle on our black and white TV were confusing, and to be honest, a little scary. Things were changing, and I didn’t understand everything that was going on.
It was probably not too long after the event in Greensboro, our family had gone to Fayetteville shopping. It was a much different time back then, with all the department stores downtown, on Hay Street. My folks would let us kids roam up and down Hay Street, checking out Sears, Woolworth’s, J.C. Penney’s, Belk’s and the other stores. They would do their shopping, telling us to meet them at the shoe department at Sears when it was time to go home. (Like I said, it was a much different time back then.)
We got there that night, not realizing that there was something major happening. As I walked into J.C. Penney’s, I saw many African American folks, most probably college age, sitting on the floor of the store, clogging up the aisles. Even though I was less than ten years old, I knew it had something to do with the events I had been seeing on the news.
Looking back now, I am grateful for those students and others who used nonviolent means to effect the change that was needed. With that fifty year later perspective, I see things that took place back then in race relations that were wrong. And those past practices now seem to be just plain dumb. Why would a business not serve someone, if they were acting properly, just because of their race? They were costing themselves profit and sales. That’s dumb. Why did the kids, who were black, who lived across the road from us, have to ride a school bus ten miles to the black school near Spivey’s Corner, when my sister and I only had to go a mile to Clement? It doesn’t make sense. But nobody ever said racism was smart.
But that was the culture back then. It was a culture that needed to be changed. Thank goodness for leaders, (Remember, leaders are the first ones to do the right thing.) like those four young black men in Greensboro, and for Dr. Martin Luther King, who led the change in a nonviolent manner which, in the end, has benefited all Americans.
During the program, the song, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” was sung. The song was led by Ms. Leslie Simpson, and was introduced as the Negro National Anthem. As I read the words to the song, I could see the significance to the African-American community. But the words of the song can have meaning to all of us, especially the last verse.
That verse reads, “Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee, Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee; Shadowed beneath Thy hand, May we forever stand, True to our God, True to our native land.”
Mac McPhail, raised in Sampson County, lives in Clinton and can be reached at [email protected]