Fear in Writing: Black History Month, Responsibility, and Guest Blogging

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Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Monday, February 15, 2010

Black History Month, Responsibility, and Guest Blogging

I am guest blogging over at Thoughts in Progress today, so I chose to take a page from the Elizabeth Spann Craig book on blogging and re-post and article from earlier this month.  It isn't one that got a ton of comments, but the comments it got were very powerful.  I think this is an important post, so I hope you enjoy it.  And come on over & see me at Mason's blog.

It is February. Love is in the air.  It is a month for remembering others and the love that binds us.  Or doesn't, I suppose.

It is also Black History Month in the U.S. and Canada.  Here in North Carolina a monumental event is taking place in honor of this: the opening of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum.  A little lunch counter in Greensboro, NC became a hotbed of civil rights controversy on February 1, 1960.  Four black college students (Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr. and David Richmond) entered the Woolworth store on that day and sat at a 'whites only' counter.  They were "denied service, ignored, and then asked to leave."  The next day, 29 black men and women returned to the store and sat at the counter.  They were teased and refused service, but they sat there for FOUR hours while police and news crews watched.
Four hours might not sound like much, but it got things started.  The idea hit the nightly newscasts and "students across the community embraced the movement."  Demonstrations continued and the NAACP fully supported this highly organized group of students.

On the third day of sit-ins, the number of participants had grown to 60.  They took up every single seat at that lunch counter.  Members of the KKK turned out to heckle them.  By the fourth day, 300 studenst were protesting by 'sitting in,' three of them white women from a local women's university, and the protest had spread to a second store, S.H. Kress & Co.  Still the stores refused to integrate as long as "other downtown facilities remained segregated."

On Friday, Feb. 5th, white segregationists seated their own at the counters in hopes of displacing the protests.  Sit-in participants filled in the remaining seats and the standoff continued.  By Saturday, more than 1,000 people packed the Woolworth's in protest.  A bomb threat was called in and the store was closed.  Protesters moved to the Kress store, which was immediately closed as well.

On Monday, Feb. 8th, students in Winston-Salem and Durham held sit-ins to show solidarity with the Greensboro students.  The movement spread to Raleigh, Charlotte and High Point, then beyond to Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and "even Woolworth stores in New York City."

Talks and public votes showed support for integrated lunch counters, but, when it hadn't happened by April 1st, students began sitting in again at both the Woolworth and Kress stores.  The next day, both stores officially closed their lunch counters.

Nearly six months later, on Monday, July 25, 1960, "F.W. Woolworth employees Charles Bess, Mattie Long, Susie Morrison and Jamie Robinson are the first African-Americans to eat at the lunch counter. The headline of The Greensboro Record read 'Lunch Counters Integrated Here.' The Kress counter opened to all on the same day."

(All information and quotes taken from the International Civil Rights Center & Museum.)

I am a woman.  I know my history is as oppressed as African Americans, but I don't feel it as strongly as I feel theirs.  I continue to feel shame for the ignorance that guided our country so recently in the laws and treatments of people who are our equals.  I have never paid much attention to Black History Month before.  However, with the opening of this new museum right down the road from me, my eyes are a bit more open.  1960 was before my time but it wasn't so long ago.  And it is still 1960 in many places around the world.  What do we do?  We are all writers.  We all have a pen that is, it has been said, mightier than the sword.  Read I, Rigoberta Menchu or Revolutionizing Motherhood and you see how words brought change and safety to the oppressed.

So I ask you, do we have a responsibility?  Do we have a job to do?

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  1. I think we definitely have a responsibility to take the high road in our writing. We can do this in subtle ways, though. I feel like I'm doing it by having empowered elderly women in my books.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. Will check out your guest post, Michele.

  3. It is so important to know our history so we don't repeat the horrific mistakes of the past.

  4. We all have responsibilities to everything we do. Great post. Thanks for guest blogging at Thoughts in Progress today. Really appreciate it.

  5. Great post! I cannot imagine writing anything that does not have some moral responsibility in the plot--maybe not the preachy, in-your-face beatitude-type writing, but all my plots certainly show that actions have consequences. And so far, negative actions have resulted in equally negative outcomes. Whether the reader "gets the point" or not, the point is there.

    Personally, I couldn't be true to myself if I didn't write that way, but more experienced authors may not agree. I'll be watching the comments on this post with interest ;-)

  6. I am the grand daughter of Mattie Long; one of the first blacks to be served at the Woolworth lunch counter. She currently resides in Raleigh, NC with her daughter and son-in-law. Her health is begining to fail her. I feel the system is also failing her. After working so hard all of her life to raise children and take care of so many of the elderly people that lived on ther street she can not afford a sit in nurse to take care of her. My mother and I are doing the best we can however, it would be nice if the healthcare system or medicare or medicaid would step up and assist. Kellison@wcpss.net