Terra Sigillata

Among the many things that LungMutiny2010 has taken from me is the chance to take advantage of all the rich cultural offerings in the North Carolina Research Triangle area during Black History Month.

Regular readers will remember that I wrote a few months ago about the segregation era sit-ins, beginning with the 1957 Royal Ice Cream sit-in in Durham and the immortal 1960 Greensboro Woolworth’s sit-ins that garnered national attention.

i-5064a6ce3b4818ad24ff8f5ec8f75d8c-MLK_Woolworths_021660-thumb-500x331-41361.jpgThose who came to the ScienceOnline2010 session with me and my colleague, Damond Nollan, will also remember that I spoke at length about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s relationship with Durham. Fifty years ago this week, Dr. King came to Durham in the days after the Greensboro sit-in to commend and energize those involved. A superb photographic history of this February 16, 1960 visit can be found here at Endangered Durham. Above is just one photo from the Herald-Sun archives showing Dr. King with host Rev. Douglas Moore and others in the Durham Woolworth’s whose counter was closed “in the interest of public safety” that day so that a sit-in could not occur during his visit.

Most important about these sit-ins is that they chiefly involved students – young people of bravery and conviction.. For example, the famous Greensboro Four were students at North Carolina A&T University. So I was delighted this week to read in the Durham Herald-Sun an essay entitled, “Fifty years later, are we still drinking from that cup?,” written by Christine Hardman, a Durham Academy graduate from Chapel Hill now studying communications at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina.

I’m going to sound like an old dude right now but it really warms my heart when I see young people seizing upon the history of their community and reflecting on it in the context of today. While Hardman’s essay appeared in print earlier this week, the online version has only received 86 views so far – a shame, I think, for what an excellent piece it is.

Here’s a good chunk, but please go read the entire piece:

That afternoon King took part in a strategy meeting with student representatives from different cities throughout North Carolina. King discussed techniques of nonviolence and emphasized that proper methods lead to proper victory. He reminded the students that the struggle was “justice versus injustice, not black versus white.”

King recognized the importance of the student leaders and suggested to these representatives that a “coordinating council” of members from each of the various schools and cities of North Carolina be founded. One observer noted that, “many student leaders expressed the desire to keep the movement as much ‘student-led’ as possible.”

That night King spoke at White Rock Baptist Church with an audience estimated at 1,200 people.

Although not as famous as many of his other speeches, King’s address in Durham that night was sensational. Acknowledging the first of the nonviolent student campaigns, this speech left a lasting impact on the North Carolina crowds, both motivating and directing his audience in how they must continue their fight.

Right off the bat, King expressed his support for the student leaders:

“You students of North Carolina have captured this dynamic idea in a marvelous manner. You have taken the undying and passionate yearning for freedom and filtered it in your own soul and fashioned it into a creative protest that is destined to be one of the glowing epics of our time.”

The excitement and life of King’s speech fed on the idea that students, the African-American youth of America, could lead our country to a brighter, democratic future.

Strategically titling his speech, “A creative protest,” King motivated the student leaders to continue their protest in a “creative” nonviolent manner. Opposing the view of other civil rights leaders of the time, such as Malcolm X, King believed the students should continue to love their white brothers, and protest in a way of love and graciousness.

That night King reminded his audience, “Let us protest with the ultimate aim of being reconciled with our white brothers. As we sit down quietly to request a cup of coffee, let us not forget to drink from that invisible cup of love.”

We’ve still got a long ways to go, Ms. Hardman, but we’re in a good place as long as college students like you don’t forget.