'A DEFINING SYMBOL OF OUR STRUGGLE'
Greensboro News & Record (NC)
January 29, 2010
Author/Byline: JANET BRINDLE REDDICK
Edition: Special Section 15
The civil rights movement wasn't born in
Greensboro. And it didn't end here.
"But the student movement in Greensboro lit
the flame," the Rev. Jesse Jackson said. "Once the flame was lit, it
caught fire. It unleashed a dynamic."
Jackson was a freshman at the University of
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign when four N.C. A&T students walked into F.W.
Woolworth on Elm Street and sat down at the lunch counter on Feb. 1, 1960. He
transferred to A&T that fall and became a part of the community fighting
for civil rights.
"Greensboro set the pace for the
movement," he said.
By the time he was a senior, Jackson was student
body president, and he was a leader during the second wave of civil rights
protests in Greensboro, fighting for desegregation of theaters and cafeterias.
During one march in June 1963, Jackson said, he
remembers leading a group of hundreds of people up Market Street. The state
police were there, and they had their dogs with them. He said that as he looked
one of the dogs in the eyes, he felt no fear.
"It was my own quest for dignity and a quest
for history," Jackson recalled. That was the season he truly emerged as a
leader, he said.
"I came out of Greensboro," he said.
"It was my launching pad. All that I subsequently became in the movement
came out of the lessons I learned in Greensboro."
Each event and every person involved in the civil
rights movement built on one another, Jackson said. Remembering the work as a
whole is the importance of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum.
"Feb. 1 is a landmark. The Woolworth's
became a defining symbol of our struggle for us and for students around the
world," he said. "But Greensboro is also within the context of a
The message traveled from Montgomery to Greensboro
to Birmingham to Selma.
Jackson recalls an incident in October 1959
involving baseball great Jackie Robinson. Robinson was in Greenville, S.C.,
speaking to the NAACP, and he went to the Greenville airport with the Rev. and
Mrs. James Hall for his flight home.
Mrs. Hall sat down in the whites- only waiting room
and was told by a police officer to leave. She refused and was joined by her
husband and Robinson, who also refused to leave.
Robinson's involvement got the public's attention,
and on Jan. 1, 1960, local leaders organized a march on the airport.
That happened before the protest at Woolworth,
Jackson said, but "there was something special, almost mystical, about the
Greensboro sit-ins. They cleared the fog, and the wind blew, and the whole
South was aglow."
As Jackson looks back 50 years later, he can
reflect on the accomplishments for which he marched.
The winter before the sit-ins, he was unable to
have timely access to books at the public library for a report he was writing
for college. That summer, he was jailed for trying to use the same public
"When I transferred to A&T, I already had
felt the insult of segregation and the liberating power of going to jail for
dignity," he said.
In January 2009, 49 years after the sit-ins, a
black president was inaugurated.
Jackson plans to be here to mark the opening of the
museum and to celebrate.
"We changed the world," Jackson said.
"The movement never stopped. We kept removing walls and building bridges.
We democratized democracy."
Copyright (c) 2010 Greensboro News & Record