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We Shall Not Be Moved

We Shall Not Be Moved: The Jackson Woolworth's Sit-In and the Movement It Inspired

M. J. O’Brien
Foreword by Julian Bond
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    We Shall Not Be Moved
    Book Description:

    Once in a great while, a photograph captures the essence of an era: Three people--one black and two white--demonstrate for equality at a lunch counter while a horde of cigarette-smoking hotshots pour catsup, sugar, and other condiments on the protesters' heads and down their backs. The image strikes a chord for all who lived through those turbulent times of a changing America.

    The photograph, which plays a central role in the book's perspectives from frontline participants, caught a moment when the raw virulence of racism crashed against the defiance of visionaries. It now shows up regularly in books, magazines, videos, and museums that endeavor to explain America's largely nonviolent civil rights battles of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Yet for all of the photograph's celebrated qualities, the people in it and the events they inspired have only been sketched in civil rights histories. It is not well known, for instance, that it was this event that sparked to life the civil rights movement in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1963. Sadly, this same sit-in and the protest events it inspired led to the assassination of Medgar Evers, who was leading the charge in Jackson for the NAACP.We Shall Not Be Movedputs the Jackson Woolworth's sit-in into historical context. Part multifaceted biography, part well-researched history, this gripping narrative explores the hearts and minds of those participating in this harrowing sit-in experience. It was a demonstration without precedent in Mississippi--one that set the stage for much that would follow in the changing dynamics of the state's racial politics, particularly in its capital city.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-929-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-2)
    Julian Bond

    MICHAEL O’BRIEN HAS WRITTEN A DETAILED HISTORY AND FASCINATING study of one of the iconic moments of the modern civil rights movement and the powerful effect it had. The 1963 sit-in at a Jackson, Mississippi, Woolworth’s lunch counter was captured by a local photographer, as were many other demonstrations, but this one captured the imagination as no other did.

    The photograph, taken three years after the modern civil rights movement was stirred into action by a similar sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina—and decades after similar protests in the 1950s, 1940s, and earlier—had greater significance and carried greater weight...

    (pp. 3-4)

    Start with the photograph, a striking image in black and white. The background features a phalanx of jeering young white men seemingly engaged in the kind of sophomoric prank every high school yearbook boasts. Their hairstyles date them somewhere post-Elvis but pre-Beatles: slicked-back, James Dean types, raising a little hell down at the after-school hangout. Their faces show glee, fascination, bemusement as they consider what the reaction will be to a canister of sugar one prankster has just dumped down a young woman’s back.

    The woman—white, thin, nonchalant—tries hard to ignore her predicament; she doesn’t seem to get...

    (pp. 5-28)

    FROM THE TIME MEDGAR WILEY EVERS WAS BORN, ON JULY 2, 1925, THROUGH the time of the Jackson Woolworth’s sit-in, Mississippi was trapped in a post-Civil War time warp in which most blacks were treated little better than slaves. A brief period of forced equanimity had settled over Mississippi just after that war, during which blacks and whites had the same political rights. Once the federal government lost its will to enforce the rights of blacks, however, whites found opportunities—generally through violent means—to ensure that blacks were kept from power and would live as whites decreed. By the...

    (pp. 29-51)

    THE SIT-IN PHOTOGRAPH IS SO STRIKING PRECISELY BECAUSE OF THE INTENSE human drama being played out within its frame. Who are these people? Why are some sitting idle at the counter while others, in a frenzy, find ways of tormenting them? Who are the others spying intently from behind? Before delving into the events leading up to this moment in Mississippi racial history, it is instructive first to meet a few of the individuals in the photo and discover how they came to be at Woolworth’s on this tumultuous day.

    She is the focal point of the photograph, the point...

    (pp. 52-69)

    A PHOTOGRAPH—ANY PHOTOGRAPH—IS INCOMPLETE. THE CAMERA ONLY captures whatever image is right in front of it. Other dramas may be unfolding all around, but if they are not within the optical span of the camera’s lens, they are not recorded. In the case of the famous Jackson sit-in photograph, there were many other scenes that could have been documented—some of them happening at exactly the same time. But the photographer chose to point and shoot at a scene that his trained eye told him would stand the test of time. Many other demonstrators spent time at the...

    (pp. 70-80)

    BESIDES THE DEMONSTRATORS, THERE WERE SCORES OF OTHERS OUTSIDE OF the focal plane of the camera that shot the famous photograph of the Jackson sit-in. Some of these individuals played pivotal roles, either in what happened that day or in publicizing the event to the broader world. Their stories add to the pastiche of images assembled to tell the story of the Jackson Movement.

    He was no longer at the store when the famous photo was snapped. He had done what he was told by his superiors, broken up some of the trouble, arrested a couple of participants, and was...

    (pp. 81-118)

    THE JACKSON MOVEMENT CAME INTO BEING THROUGH THE CONFLUENCE OF varied forces and personalities that by synchronistic convergence found themselves pushing in the same direction for social change. There was Medgar Evers, the NAACP man who had been on the ground in Mississippi for the better part of ten years and who, like Sisyphus, had been working for change each day only to see his efforts unravel with each new vengeful twist of Mississippi’s social fabric. There was the NAACP organization itself, which sought a way to remain relevant in an era of increasingly dramatic advances by what it considered...

  10. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 119-151)

    PEARLENA LEWIS DIDN’T SLEEP VERY WELL THE NIGHT BEFORE THE SIT-IN.¹ Her feelings were a jumble: somewhat anxious though also excited, Lewis felt honored that, despite her youth, Medgar Evers had chosen her for a key role in the demonstration. She awoke early and gave her family no warning of what she was about to do; she had told Evers she felt “of age to make [this] decision myself.” She had gotten her hair done the day before and decided to wear a simple blue and white knit outfit: “nice, but not overly dressed,” she recalled. (In the early 1960s,...

    (pp. 152-179)

    IN THE WEEK AFTER THE SIT-IN, THE GRASSROOTS PHASE OF THE JACKSON Movement sparked to life, a direct response in large part to what had happened at Woolworth’s. The impact of the sit-in began to be realized the next day, when every major newspaper in America carried front-page coverage, many with pictures of Memphis Norman being attacked by Bennie Oliver. Even Jackson’s conservativeClarion-Ledger—which had published limited stories on the Jackson Movement’s prior picketing efforts—put a photo of Oliver grabbing the back of Norman’s neck on page one.¹

    In theWall Street Journal’s front-page analysis, James Tanner noted,...

    (pp. 180-204)

    IT IS DIFFICULT NOW TO COMPREHEND JUST HOW HARSH AND BRUTAL MISSISsippi’s racial war had become in the early 1960s. State-sponsored terrorism, as some have called it, was a way of life, and no one felt the jagged edge of that terror more acutely than did Medgar Evers and his family. Evers would get regular threats by phone at his office. “It just became a routine thing,” remembered his office assistant Lillian Louie. “[Being] physically threatened was just a daily thing.”¹

    Myrlie Evers intercepted similar calls at home and came in for a fair share of contempt herself. “Black bitch,”...

    (pp. 205-230)

    ON THURSDAY, JUNE 13—THE DAY AFTER MEDGAR EVERS WAS ASSASSINATED—the remaining Jackson activists got back to work in earnest. John Salter, Dave Dennis, and Ed King ran a two-hour training session on nonviolence that morning at the Pearl Street AME Church in anticipation of a march they were planning for later in the day. Annie Moody and Dorie Ladner visited Jackson State College to try to recruit more students for the march. No one at the college seemed interested, however, and the white-appointed black president tried to chase them away until Ladner dropped to her knees in frustration...

    (pp. 231-248)

    ALTHOUGH THE DIRECT ACTION PHASE OF THE JACKSON MOVEMENT ENDED with the Evers funeral march and the resulting negotiated settlement, much was left to be done during what might be called the movement’s implementation phase. Charles Evers and the activist black ministers led the charge to hold the city accountable for its promises while also pushing for additional concessions. Progress was slow, however, and not at all like the kind of full-frontal push that Jackson had witnessed during the four weeks after the Woolworth’s sit-in. As a result, many of the activists began to move in different directions that summer...

    (pp. 249-281)

    MEDGAR EVERS IS BURIED ON THE EDGE OF A SMALL OAK GROVE, JUST INSIDE the north gate of Arlington Cemetery, the one directly opposite the Lincoln Memorial. The solitary grave site is easy to find. Visitors entering the north gate need go only about a hundred paces up a slight hill, past a tall ivy-covered arbor on the right, to a flight of concrete stairs. There, down about two dozen steps and to the right is where the fallen hero was laid to rest.¹

    In this quiet spot, the general of the nonviolent Jackson Movement was buried after his shockingly...

    (pp. 282-286)

    WHEN HE TOOK THE PHOTOGRAPH THAT WOULD PROPEL HIM INTO THE HIStory books, Fred Blackwell was just twenty-two years old, the same age as some of the demonstrators at the counter, but he had already worked for theJackson Daily Newsfor more than a year. The newspaper’s editor, Jimmy Ward, had offered young Blackwell a job when at age fourteen he was named “Paper Boy of the Year.” “When you finish high school,” Ward told him, “come on back and we’ll put you to work.” The idea stuck in the teen’s imagination, and he would eventually take Ward up...

    (pp. 287-290)
  19. NOTES
    (pp. 291-328)
    (pp. 329-334)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 335-340)