So much inspiration from my past few days spent with Chris Gandy. One of many highlights were two trips into Greensboro to dine at Natty Greene’s. Named after the Revolutionary War General Nathanael Greene and home to the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, this quiet southern city not only bears the name of an important historical figure but also is home to a seminal event in the history of the civil rights movement in America: the Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-In. At times it is easy to get lost in the stereotypes of the South, at which point your mind becomes mired in the negative and you become a host for further growth of the dark cloud. After 32 years of living in Jacksonville, FL I have come to love the pockets of light which stand opposed to the condemning stares of the world and these two individual are such examples. Even further off the labeled path (and here I go a bit off topic for the sake of my soap box) is the literature, art and ethic in this part of America. While Mississippi’s racism and North Carolina’s recent Amendment 1 validate the boilerplate, there is an ideal and a lifestyle which is both romantic an admirable. Hopefully these two individuals will directly represent the latter sentiment.
The irony in these two figures is that Greene, while a person who was elemental in American winning its independence, when pressed on the issue of enslaving Africans by his Quaker friend Warner Mifflin he noted it could not be defended yet gave an “excuse” as to why it was necessary, responding that they would be treated well. A difficult pill in our history with respect to the birthing of the ideal amidst the disease of slavery. You can read about that conversation and more here.
Learning is not virtue but the means to bring us an acquaintance with it. Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful. Let these be your motives to action through life, the relief of the distressed, the detection of frauds, the defeat of oppression, and diffusion of happiness.
- Nathanael Greene
Strong people don’t need strong leaders.
- Ella Baker
Go further to learn more. Additional information regarding the Sit-Ins.
One of the most trusted generals of the Revolutionary army was Nathanael Greene, Washington’s friend and comrade-in-arms. The Greene family was among the earliest settlers in Rhode Island and helped establish the colony. John Greene was the founder of the family in the new colony. Nathanael Greene was born July 27, 1742 (old style, which is August 7, 1742 new style). His education was limited but he received a thorough training in the books which were available at his time, especially the Bible, upon which were built his habits of living, moral ideals and purposes.
In due course Greene used every possible moment to read books and saved his money to buy books so that eventually he acquired a large library. Greene had also been taught blacksmithing and the milling work. His father purchased a mill in Coventry which was assigned to Nathanael to manage. He took an active part in community affairs. He knew the value of education and helped establish the first public school in Coventry. He also added books on military science to his library which he studied diligently.
(At the battle at the Guilford Court House) In the early part of the struggle Greene lost his artillery, but the artillery would not have helped much in the heavily wooded section. However, the British forces were stopped, crippled and in a serious situation. The British lost (killed, wounded and missing) 633 men. The American losses were much lower than the British. The enemy losses were so heavy because of the accurate marksmanship of the American riflemen. After the battle the British were in serious straits. Shortly after the battle Cornwallis began to retreat and Greene started in pursuit, but he was so short of ammunition that he could not accomplish very much. Consequently, he gave up the pursuit and his army was reduced in size since the terms of the militia expired. Cornwallis continued a rapid retreat to Wilmington in their march into Virginia. Greene had freed the State of North Carolina from the major forces of the British army and that he was able to accomplish this with an inefficient and poorly equipped army, reveals that a moral as well as a military victory was on his side.
Congress gave him official recognition for the eminent service he rendered for his country. Washington also expressed his gratitude for the services of his friend and comrade-in-arms, as it was Washington who had sent Greene to perform the unusually difficult task. When he returned to Rhode Island, he was given a warm and hospitable reception. However, he determined to move to the south and develop his estate, “Mulberry Grove,” located on the Savannah River. (Source)
Ella Jo Baker was born on December 13, 1903, in Norfolk, Virginia. She developed a sense for social justice early in her life. As a girl growing up in North Carolina, Baker listened to her grandmother tell stories about slave revolts. As a slave, her grandmother had been whipped for refusing to marry a man chosen for her by the slave owner.
Baker studied at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. As a student she challenged school policies that she thought were unfair. After graduating in 1927 as class valedictorian, she moved to New York City and began joining social activist organizations. In 1930, she joined the Young Negroes Cooperative League, whose purpose was to develop black economic power through collective planning. She also involved herself with several women’s organizations. She was committed to economic justice for all people and once said, “People cannot be free until there is enough work in this land to give everybody a job.”
Ella Baker began her involvement with the NAACP in 1940. She worked as a field secretary and then served as director of branches from 1943 until 1946. Inspired by the historic bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, Baker co-founded the organization In Friendship to raise money to fight against Jim Crow Laws in the deep South.
In 1957, Baker moved to Atlanta to help organize Martin Luther King’s new organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). She also ran a voter registration campaign called the Crusade for Citizenship.
On February 1, 1960, a group of black college students from North Carolina A&T University refused to leave a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina where they had been denied service. Baker left the SCLC after the Greensboro sit-ins. She wanted to assist the new student activists because she viewed young, emerging activists as a resource and an asset to the movement. Miss Baker organized a meeting at Shaw University for the student leaders of the sit-ins in April 1960. From that meeting, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee — SNCC — was born. (Source)
About the Sit-Ins
In 1960 four freshmen from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro walked into the F. W. Woolworth store and quietly sat down at the lunch counter. They were refused service, but they stayed until closing time. The next morning they came with twenty-five more students. On the third day, sixty-three students joined the sit-in. On the following day, the students were joined by three white female students from the Women’s College of the University of North Carolina, and by the fifth day Woolworth had more than three hundred demonstrators at the store. The next day the company said they were willing to negotiate, but only token changes were made. The students resumed their sit-ins, the city adopted more stringent segregation policies, and forty-five students were arrested and charged with trespassing. The students were so enraged by this that they launched a massive boycott of stores with segregated lunch counters. Sales dropped by a third, forcing the store owners to relent. Six months from the very first sit-in, the four freshmen returned and were served at Woolworth’s lunch counter.
Within a year similar peaceful demonstrations took place in over a hundred cities North and South. At Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, students formed their own organization, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “Snick”). The students’ bravery in the face of verbal and physical abuse led to integration in many stores even before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (Source)