Less than one month after the desegregation of
Library, the city witnessed
its first nonviolent direct action by African American high-school
students. On March 28, 1963, over one hundred high-school
students marched to the downtown businesses pictured in this
clip to challenge the city's Jim
Crow accommodations. After G.C. Murphy
Co., Keith-Walgreen Drug Store, Redford's Variety
Store, and Enloe Drug Store denied their requests for service,
police moved in. Police arrested only sixty-two
of the Rome protesters although, according to local activist Lavada
Dillard, there were enough students present to fill the jail three
to four times.
Main High students resolved to hold sit-ins after
becoming disillusioned with the slow pace of integration efforts
citywide. Eula Mae Farmer recalled her frustration when city leaders
attempted to appease the black community by partially desegregating
city parks and buses. She and her classmates, including Lonnie Malone,
a group leader of the sit-ins, refused to remain idle as students
across the country stood in defense of their rights. Days before the
1963 Rome sit-ins, Atlanta University complex students had presented
Allen Jr. with a letter that noted the
slow progress of civil rights legislation.
Although many of the marchers remember that no adults were involved
in the protest, some adult members of the community knew about the
students’ plans. They cautioned the youthful demonstrators about
potential consequences of nonviolent
advised them to leave behind anything that could be considered a
weapon. In spite of the potential violence and arrests they faced,
the students were determined to follow through with their plans.
They journeyed to the lunch counters with money in hand,
so that the police could not charge them for requesting
service without the means to pay.
Soon after the students sat down at the lunch counters,
Rome police arrived to arrest them. The officers took them to the "River
Side Hotel," a name playfully given to the city jail by one
of the students, on charges of loitering and disorderly conduct.
Guards separated males from females, crowded them into cells, and
circulated meals of beans, sauerkraut, and corn bread. The jailers
turned away parents who brought snacks for their children. Students
also reported that guards turned on the air conditioner and opened
the windows at night, and turned on the heat and closed the
windows during the day. Still,
they were not able to break the students' spirits.
Like many civil rights activists, the youth of Rome sang
songs for inspiration. The Rome
News Tribune reported that
many of the demonstrators brought along the lyrics of songs about
desegregation. In a rendition of the song "Go
Down Moses (Let My People Go)," those arrested sang for President
Kennedy to order Nelson Camp, Rome's police chief, to "let my people
go." The young people comforted themselves through religious worship
on the Sunday before their court dates. They recited the Lord's
6:9-13) and sang the Negro
National Anthem, James Weldon Johnson's "Lift
Every Voice and Sing."
five of the protestors were younger than fourteen years old, police
only charged fifty-seven of the sixty-two arrested. The accused
students faced five to ten days in jail or paid fines of fifty to
one-hundred dollars. They gained legal council from the Honorable Horace
T. Ward, a defense lawyer who had served on the legal team
of Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter, and Vernon
E. Jordan, field director for the NAACP.
Once the students were taken into police custody, they and their
parents relied on communications between the police department and
white Romans who were more sympathetic to the concerns of the Civil
Rights Movement. Jule and Rose Levin, members of Rome's Jewish
population, came to the aid of the protesters. They were joined
Boas, a physical education professor at Shorter College
and the founder of the Rome chapter of the Georgia Council of
Human Relations, along with the other Shorter faculty.
celebrations of Civil
Rights Movement activities in Rome have inspired
students formerly involved in the sit-ins to commemorate their
protest. Willie Mae Samuel has written a
performative piece about the sit-ins using students’ memoirs
saved by Rose Levin, and collected by Myrtle Jones, an English
teacher at Main High in 1963. Her work is
entitled It Had to Happen, a reference to the urgency
that accompanied students' desires to desegregate the
town. On July 5, 2007, Main High school demonstrators
gathered at The Rome Area History Museum to record their stories.
Two days later, the group reunited in a celebration of this
untold sit-in story. They were
joined by Rome's city manager, John Bennett, and
city commissioners who approved the dedication of "Freedom
Garden," adjacent to the Carnegie Library.
By participating in marches and sit-ins,
Main High students adapted established nonviolent methods of civil
rights activism. They also expanded the traditional
narrative of the Movement by shifting the decision-making from
adults to children. In contrast with the integration of Central
High School in Little
Rock, Arkansas, where adult members of the NAACP, like
Bates, orchestrated the desegregation campaign.
This moment in civil rights history also demonstrates the
considerable involvement of women, who comprised over half
of the demonstrators, as well as children, in organizing and
implementing acts of civil disobedience.
Resources (click here)
Printable Version (click here)
1. Compare this demonstration in Rome to the 1960 Greensboro
sit-ins and the Atlanta
What did the three sit-ins have in common? What were their major
differences? What happened in the aftermath of each sit-in?
2. Main High students reported that jail guards attempted to make
the cellmates as uncomfortable as possible. Read the story Barbwire
Theater Comes to Atlanta in
on Film Atlanta
pages. Compare the prison conditions that Barbwire chronicled
to those experienced by the Main High School students. Do you think
that the experiences of civil rights activists in southern jails
increased awareness about the need for prison reform in the United
States? In your opinion, has there been progress in prison reform
and prisoner rehabilitation since the 1960s? Why or why not?
3. To ease their frustrations on the Sunday before court, the
students sang "Lift
Every Voice and Sing," written and composed in 1900
Weldon Johnson and his brother John
Rosamond Johnson. In 1919, the NAACP designated
this song as the National
Negro Anthem. Read the lyrics and
the song. What conditions did African Americans experience in
the late nineteenth century that may have lead the two brothers
to write this song? How had African Americans' lives changed
by the second decade of the twentieth century? What lyrics or
stanzas would the Main High School students have found most relevant
to the conditions that affected their homes or families?
Take it to
Select a block or two from a street in your city's business or
recreation district. Draw a diagram representing all the businesses,
services, and public facilities on the block. Make a copy of your
diagram, then mark an X on premises that would have been decreed
off-limits to African Americans in the early sixties, or that
would have provided second-class treatment or segregated sitting
areas to African American patrons. What does you comparison of
the two diagrams tell you about how and why your community has
changed since the Civil Rights Movement?
Writer: Christina L. Davis and Lavada Dillard Editors
and Researchers: Laura Anderson, Christina L. Davis, Mary Boyce
Hicks, and Professor Barbara McCaskill
Site Designer: William Weems
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