"February One": The Greensboro Sit-ins of 1960 - Additional Discussion Questions
1. There were two principal streams of the Civil Rights Movement. One was an adult and church-based movement led by Martin Luther King and SCLC. A second was a student and college-based movement (SNCC) that did not have famous leaders, although a number of activists later became important figures (e.g., Julian Bond, Stokely Carmichael and even Marion Barry). Why has this student-stream of the movement received less attention than the adult-led stream when as the film makes clear, it was crucial to rejuvenating the movement and pushing it forward?
2. What was the genius of selecting a lunch counter for the sit-in? What was the etiquette of racial segregation and how was it related to racial subordination? Being denied something so elementary as a cup of coffee pointed out the absurdity of racial segregation. Blacks and whites could eat together so long as they were standing. But sitting to eat implied equality. Why?
3. Are young people greater risk takers? Were the students in the Civil Rights Movement more confrontational? The adult-led NAACP stressed legal action (Supreme Court cases) or boycotts (M.L. King and Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama). Notice that the students consulted with their parents and told them of what they were planning to do. Notice that Ezell's father gave him good advice regarding how he should dress and behave, and about the seriousness of what they were doing. Did Ezell's behavior make his dad proud?
4. Can one have more bravery and strength acting together rather than alone? Note how the four youths got up their courage by engaging in a game of "chicken." Is that positive or negative?
5. What was the white response to the sit-in? Why didn't the manager simply have the students arrested? Why didn't the policeman arrest and/or beat the students? Why did white store patrons simply leave, rather than confront the students? The South was changing, and was not monolithic. Greensboro, North Carolina was not Birmingham, Alabama. Places like Greensboro were moving out of the old tobacco, plantation economy of racial subordination and entering the modern world of industry and education. It considered itself progressive and, while it supported segregation as a custom, its business leaders wanted peace and tranquility to attract industry and business. Remember Atlanta's slogan: "The City Too Busy to Hate."
6. What were the two different reactions of the women in Woolworth's who witnessed the sit-in? An elderly white woman sat down beside them and encouraged (and shocked) them, saying she was disappointed that it had taken them so long to do something like this. A Black female employee came out of the kitchen and berated the students for "giving the race a bad name." What are different strategies for dealing with racial injustice? Does open protest to force change work better or is quiet, respectable behavior in the hopes of winning change more effective? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each? What were the stakes for each of these women in the film?
7. The father of Ezell Blair (Jibreel Khazan) had served in the military during WWII. What is the influence of World War II on the Civil Rights Movement? How did fighting for freedom (and against Nazi racism) abroad spur Blacks to fight for freedom at home? What was the meaning of the Double V campaign?
8. One of the students reported that he had been inspired to sit-in because he had just returned from New York where eating facilities were integrated. The sudden change from one system to the other had infuriated him. Why was someone who had experienced integration more likely to protest than someone who had known only segregation? In what ways were race relations different in the North from the South? In what ways were they similar? How did those differences change the nature of the movement in the two regions?
9. The student body at A&T gave only nominal support to the four young men and did not join them the next day. Why the hesitation? Within a few days, however, there was massive support, including the entire football team. Why the turn around?
10. What was the importance of media coverage, in spreading this student movement? Note both local and national (New York Times). Note especially the importance of television coverage in spreading the word and inspiring Blacks across the South.
11. Discuss the emergence of separate Black colleges in the years after the Civil War, and the role of those colleges in producing Black leaders. Are all-Black colleges worth keeping today, even though they hearken back to an era of segregation?
12. Why did the white co-eds from the nearby Women's College join the sit-in? Could this be related to the growth of the women's movement? Did young women at that time have to be more concerned about what their parents or their peers thought about their involvement in the protest?
13. The four young men said that sitting down at the lunch counter made them feel good, feel clean. They felt they had won their manhood. Why would such a simple act have had such a major impact on their psyche? On their notion of manhood?
14. Why did white young men not support the students, but jeered them? Did the gaining of Black manhood threaten their sense of white manhood?
15. Notice the prayer circle that the Black football players formed with the white female students. What role did religious beliefs play in the struggle for Civil Rights?
16. Compare the dress of Jibreel Khazan with that of Ezell Blair. What is the significance of his changing his name? Changing his clothing and hair? Was his earlier dress meant to win white acceptance? Is his current dress a signal that he no longer cares about being accepted into the white world?
17. Today Greensboro commemorates the Sit-ins, but now the whites have moved to mostly-white suburbs. What should today's young people, white and Black, do to improve race relations and promote racial equality? Is racial integration as important as educational/economic equality? Can the latter be achieved without the former?
Written by Dr. Laurence Glasco of the Department of History, University of Pittsburgh for California Newsreel.
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