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Protest & Resistance

In the 1950s, race relations were changing in segregated America. The Supreme Court had finally admitted in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that segregation violated the constitutional rights of American citizens. The court ruled that integration should happen "with all deliberate speed."

Many young African Americans took on racial discrimination in their own way. One method was the sit-in. To protest segregation peacefully, the students simply sat down in places, such as lunch counters, that were restricted to whites only. Sit-ins often became violent. White people attacked the non-violent protesters while white policemen looked on and then arrested the black victims.

The Nashville sit-ins commenced on April 3, 1961, the day after Dr. Alfred Blalock's 60th birthday gala in Baltimore. That event was the crowning moment of Blalock's career, and it was held at the segregated Southern Hotel. Vivien Thomas, who had worked with Dr. Blalock since 1929, was not invited.

Kwame Lillard and Elizabeth McClain, whose civil rights activism spans decades, were leaders of the Nashville sit-ins. Here, they discuss their early experiences with resistance.

Video: Kwame Lillard
Kwame Lillard
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"Let's say -- let's say from here on out, as we encounter people, as we teach people, as we share what we've learned, that we tell people, you start something today, it may not -- it may not be successful, but just start it." -- Kwame Lillard

Kwame Lillard responds to the following questions:

  1. What's a good example of how you protested?
  2. Was non-violence always your guiding principle?
  3. What is the legacy of your activism?
  4. How can people keep the spirit of the civil rights movement alive today?

Video: Elizabeth McClain
Elizabeth McClain
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"One song I think we sang more than any song as we marched downtown was 'I Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.'" -- Elizabeth McClain

Elizabeth McClain responds to the following questions:

  1. What day-to-day realities prompted students to stage sit-ins?
  2. Did you have an emblematic protest song?
  3. Is the job you set out to do unfinished?

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