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markk

markk

Reading progress update: I've read 114 out of 256 pages.

The Sit-Ins: Protest and Legal Change in the Civil Rights Era - Christopher W. Schmidt

I wanted to read this book in order to learn more about an aspect of the civil rights movement that I knew very little about, and so far it's fitting the bill nicely. Schmidt has a nice summary of the protests and looks at a number of different aspects, such as the way they represented a break from the general direction of segregation opposition until then (though I think he overstates this) and the reaction of older African Americans to the student-driven effort.

 

But the most interesting chapter so far was the one on the opposition to the sit-ins. This was because, as little as I knew about the protests, I knew even less about the response. And it was absolutely fascinating for the almost comical response of the groups. Simply put, most whites wanted someone else to respond: the business owners didn't want to take a position that would alienate some portion of their customers, the police couldn't act without a formal complaint, local leaders wanted to avoid controversy that made their communities look bad to outsiders, and state leaders (who were the most powerful pro-segregation actors) passed laws that foundered on the reliance on the business owners to initiate action — something which they had already demonstrated an unwillingness to do. It underscores for me just how much of segregation was maintained by sheer inertia, and how the unifying achievement of the various strands of the civil rights movement was the disruption of that inertia.