• U.S.

RACES: Brushfire

4 minute read

As quickly as the white South stamped out one spark, the brushfire caught in dozens of faraway communities. In five weeks, Negro “sit-in” demonstrations at segregated lunch counters had raced from North Carolina to South Carolina to Virginia to Florida to Tennessee and into Deep South Alabama. A unique protest against Jim Crow kindled by four college freshmen in Greensboro, N.C. (TIME, Feb. 22], the Gandhi-like Negro civil disobedience campaign, without any apparent central organized direction, continued to spread:

¶ In Montgomery, Ala., after a white man beat a Negro woman with a baseball bat in a sidewalk incident, 1,000 Negroes silently marched to the white-columned first capitol of the Confederate states to pray and sing the Star-Spangled Banner. In retaliation for the march. Governor John Patterson ordered nine Negro students expelled from Alabama State College, placed 20 others on strict probation.

¶ In Orangeburg, S.C., 600 students from two Negro colleges paraded in the streets with placards that proclaimed “We Want Liberty” and “Segregation Is Dead.” Arrested after a scuffle were a white man and a Negro girl.

¶ In Sumter, S.C., 26 Negroes were arrested for refusing to leave a segregated lunch counter. At the capital, Columbia, 200 young Negroes marched downtown amid white hecklers for nearly two hours, left when City Manager Irving McNayr warned that “an explosive situation” was abuilding. After students had agreed to halt demonstrations, a cross burning on a Negro college campus touched off a brick-throwing invasion of a white drive-in by 50 Negroes.

¶ In Tampa, Miami, Sarasota, St. Petersburg and Daytona Beach, Fla., sit-ins stirred Governor LeRoy Collins to brand the demonstrations “dangerous and illegal” under state law.

¶ In Tuskegee, Ala., Negro students at the well-known Tuskegee Institute launched an all-out boycott against local white merchants in their “fight for first-class citizenship.”

As it crackled across the South, the lunch-counter protest burned most vividly in tinder-dry Tennessee, where fortnight ago Chattanooga firemen were forced to turn hoses on several thousand rioting whites and Negroes. Last week the flames leaped to Nashville, as 500 Negroes surged through downtown variety, drug and department stores, left a wake of closed counters and pushed on to the Greyhound and Trailways bus terminals. Sixty-four Negro students were arrested, most of them for refusing to leave the Greyhound lunch counter while police searched for a reported bomb. Charged with violation of the city code, they at first declined to post $50 bonds, said in a statement, “We cannot find it in our hearts to pay fines that would support injustice and immoral practices.” Later the students changed their minds, were released pending trial this week.

A leader of the sit-ins, the Rev. James Morris Lawson Jr., 31, was expelled from Vanderbilt University’s divinity school by the trustees because of his “strong commitment to a planned campaign of civil disobedience.” At week’s end Lawson and 79 others, mostly Negroes, were arrested on state charges of conspiracy to disrupt trade and commerce. (Maximum penalty: eleven months and 29 days and/or $1,000 fine.) They were quickly bailed out; 16 Vanderbilt divinity faculty members posted bond for Lawson. Meanwhile, worried Mayor Ben West (“Please, let’s avoid a blood bath in this community”) met with a newly appointed bi-racial committee to seek a solution to the sit-ins.

The zeal of Southern Negro students rubbed off on white collegians thousands of miles away. Sympathy pickets appeared last week before Woolworth’s stores in Boulder, Colo., Madison, Wis., and Boston, lent weight to a drive organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to exert economic pressure against five-and-dime chains. Variety stores in North and South were feeling the pinch of Negro economic pressure—a new weapon long deemed too risky—but so far the Negroes had not yet won so much as an integrated cup of coffee below the Potomac.

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