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Trailways Lunch Counter Sit-In

At the end of this video clip from December 14, 1961, ten black people enter the whites-only lunch room of the Trailways bus terminal in Albany.  The group is led by Norma Lee Anderson, the wife of Dr. William G. Anderson, who was the president of the Albany Movement. Since the late summer, SNCC members Charles Sherrod and Cordell Reagon had been organizing students to hold    sit-ins and kneel-ins. When they sit down, a white waitress who had been serving customers immediately leaves the lunch room. However, a black cook comes to the counter and serves the ten activists coffee. When one of them sits next to a white man at the counter, he moves.

Police Chief Laurie Pritchett and other officers arrive at the bus terminal. Chief Pritchett tells the group that they are all under arrest and then has them taken away to a police wagon. The majority of the group allowed the police to take them to the wagon, except for four protestors who had to be forcibly dragged from the lunch room by the police. However, shortly after the arrests, the police brought them back to the bus terminal and told them they could go free if they intended to take a bus to Tallahassee, Florida, instead of staging a sit-in.

The terminal management posted a sign that the lunch counter was “closed for cleaning.” In addition, signs reading “cleaning in progress” were hung by the rest rooms in the terminal.

During the sit-in, sixteen other blacks entered the white waiting room in the Albany terminal, bought tickets for a bus to Tallahassee, Florida, and then took seats. Although the Albany police watched them, they did not interfere with them or attempt to arrest them.

Sit-ins were some of the most dramatic nonviolent forms of protest that the Civil Rights Movement activists used. Television and newspaper images of neatly dressed young men and women enduring insults, being spat upon, and/or having food and drink poured on them--and not fighting back--emphasized the injustice of racism, and also how the reality of southern black people's lives differed from stereotypes and popular perceptions of them.

Suggested Resources (click here)

Discussion Questions

1. How did black people cope with the restrictions in movement imposed on them by Jim Crow laws? What difficulties did they encounter planning trips by bus or rail throughout the deep South?

2. Watch the young man in the hat who leads the group. What emotions are expressed by his posture and attitude?

3. What kinds of tactics (like the sit-ins) did young people bring to the Movement that adults had not developed? Were adults in the Movement reluctant to use any of the tactics the students created, and if so, why?

4. How did students in the Albany Movement cope with being in jail? Contrast this with the experiences of young black women in the Leesburg Stockade, a few miles away outside of Americus. (For information on the Leesburg Stockade, see an excerpt from the article "Stolen Girls" by Donna M. Owens in Essence [June 2006, pp. 162-68, cont'd. pp. 218-219]).

5. Student sit-ins were held widely throughout the South during the 1960s. Yet a little-known fact about civil rights history is that such sit-ins occured in the 1940s and 1950s as well, and not just in the South. Who initiated some of these earlier sit-ins, were they effective, and how did these sit-ins pave the way for the protests of the 1960s?

Take it to the Streets!

Study the discussion of What Was Jim Crow? at the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University. During Jim Crow, African Americans were not allowed in whites-only restaurants, yet they could be present all the same in the form of material objects: salt and pepper shakers, cookie jars, skillets. View some of these categories of objects in the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University: Mammy, Uncle Tom, Pickaninnies. Discuss what it meant that black people were objectified in this way. Then talk about how groups of people are objectified in similar ways; in other words, how are groups of people made to occupy public spaces without their physical presence? Write a paragraph explaining what you have discovered about this public treatment.

Writer: Courtney Thomas    
Editors: Deborah Stanley and Diane Trap
Researchers: Lauren Chambers, Aggie Ebrahimi, Courtney Thomas, and Professor Barbara McCaskill  
Web Site Designer: William Weems 

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