A FORCE MORE POWERFUL
SNIPPET LESSON PLAN: THE NASHVILLE SIT-INS
Subject: U.S. History and Culture – Diversity/African-American – Civil Rights Movement & 1945 – 1991
Ages: 12+; Middle and High School Levels
Length: Film Clip: 30 minutes; Lesson: Two 45-55 minute class periods; can be reduced to one class period by eliminating most of the class discussion and the comprehension test.
Give your students new perspectives on race relations, on the history of the American Revolution, and on the contribution of the Founding Fathers to the cause of representative democracy. Check out TWM’s Guide:
Students will learn the history of the Nashville sit-ins of 1960, from the training the students received, through the sit-ins themselves, to the negotiations that led to the integration of restaurants in downtown Nashville. Students will also become acquainted with the concept of non-violent mass action through the example of the sit-ins. Students will retain strong mental images of the early Civil Rights Movement by watching it unfold on film.
An understanding of modern history requires knowledge of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, the important role students played in the quest for equal rights, and the significance of nonviolent mass action as a force for political and social change. The Nashville sit-ins of 1960 were a pivotal event in the U.S. Civil Rights movement.
DESCRIPTION OF SNIPPET
Location on DVD: Start at the begriming of the film and run it to the end of the section on the Nashville sit-ins.
Possible Problems for this Snippet: None.
Why not show the whole movie? TWM strongly recommends this film, especially the sections on the Nashville sit-ins, Gandhi and the Indian independence movement, the resistance to apartheid in South Africa, and the emergence of Solidarity in Poland. See Learning Guide to A Force More Powerful.
Building Vocabulary: holistic, experiment, overt, humiliating, segregation, desegregation, apartheid, KKK (Ku Klux Klan), Gandhian, discipline, anticipating, sit-in, dramatize, grievances, boycott, backfire, strategic opportunity, controversial, equivalent, contingency, a story of national significance, historic moment, on principle, indignation, mobilized, momentum, retailer.
For an example of how American women, led by Alice Paul, developed the principles of Gandhian nonviolent mass action, apparently independently, and used them to secure the vote for women in the United States, see Learning Guide to “Iron Jawed Angels“.
Click here for a website from the filmmakers.
Click here to Set-Up-the-Sub for this lesson.
2. Review this Guide and decide how much of the Supplemental Materials to provide to the class. Also, determine which discussion questions to use. Decide whether to present the Supplemental Materials through direct instruction or to give students the Handout Relating to the Nashville Sit-ins to read. Decide whether to give students the comprehension test. Modify the handout and the comprehension test, if necessary, for the particular needs of the class.
3. Cue the DVD to the beginning of the film clip and assemble all printed materials to be handed out to the class.
STEP BY STEP
1. Tell students that the class will cover the Nashville sit-ins of 1960. Place the events in Nashville in the context with other historical events that the students have been studying or which were occurring in the early 1960s.
2. Play the movie A Force More Powerful from the beginning to the end of the segment entitled “We Were Warriors – Nashville, 1960”. This will take about 30 minutes.
4. Select the discussion questions to review. See Discussion Questions below.
5. Give the comprehension test. The test consists of the discussion questions slightly modified in some cases. The test is designed to be a learning experience itself. Allow 30 minutes for the test.
Points that will be covered in a thorough class discussion are set out in the Suggested Response section. The questions on the comprehension test are identical in most cases to the discussion questions. Not all discussion questions are included in the test. The Suggested Responses are examples of excellent answers to the appropriate test questions.
1. Segregation can be defined as the separation of black and white Americans in social, political and economic spheres of life.
(a) the ways in which blacks were harmed by segregation,
(b) the ways in which segregation harmed whites, and
(c) the way in which the failure to give equal rights to black Americans harmed the nation.
(a) Segregation, particularly in education and employment, denied black Americans the opportunity to realize their full potential, to be paid as they deserved for their work, and to live the American Dream. Segregation sent a message to blacks that they were inferior to other Americans; it was a mark of inferiority that was devastating to the self-esteem of many. It was a constant and irritating reminder that blacks were considered second-class citizens by their white compatriots.
(b) As to whites, segregation betrayed the political and cultural ideals of the Declaration of Independence. Relegating people to second-class citizenship because of their race undercut basic ethical lessons taught at home and in the churches and temples that whites attended. It is harmful to live in a way that takes unfair advantage of others. This harm may be more subtle than the harm from segregation suffered by a black person but it is nonetheless real.
(c) For the United States as a community, segregation betrayed the principles of the Declaration of Independence. By denying African Americans an equal opportunity to better themselves and contribute to society, segregation the denied country the full benefits of their talent.
2. What characteristics of population and tradition made Nashville a good place in which to mount a challenge to the segregation of department store lunch counters?
Nashville was generally thought to be an enlightened community with several colleges, black and white. Blacks had already been elected to the City Council and the School Board. There was a strong professional and middle-class component to the black community in Nashville. It was called the “Athens of the South” for its colleges and its reputation as being an enlightened community. There were many students from the black colleges to serve as volunteers. James Lawson, an expert in Gandhian nonviolence, was in Nashville and available to aid the students.
3. Explain the symbolic value of the lunch counters of downtown department stores targeted by the sit-in demonstrators.
Lunch counters were central and easy for the media to cover. It was particularly unjust for the department stores to sell merchandise to black people but not to allow them to eat at a lunch counter located in the store. The segregated lunch counters were a symbol that access to a place to eat, a basic human need, was being denied to the black community. The prospect of blacks eating next to whites would infuriate racists but also stress the humanity of the demonstrators and of all black people.
4. What happened on February 27, 1960, the day the students labeled “Big Saturday”? Did it work to the advantage of the students or that of the segregationists? Explain the reasons for your answer.
Agitators attacked sit-in demonstrators on February 27, 1960. Then the police arrested 81 demonstrators for disturbing the peace despite the fact that they had done nothing illegal and had been passive during the entire incident. No agitators were arrested. James Lawson, a leader of the demonstrations, named February 27, 1960, as “Big Saturday.” It led to outrage nationwide and helped the protesters prevail.
5. What would have probably happened had the demonstrators fought back when they were attacked?
Fighting back would have sacrificed the students’ moral authority as nonviolent protesters. It would have made the goal of mobilizing public opinion for desegregation more difficult by changing the focus of the controversy. The story in the press would be about the fight, rather than about the protesters’ complaints, their demands for change, and the viciousness of the segregationists. In addition, fighting back would have given the segregationists an excuse to hurt the demonstrators and would have given the police a justification for arresting them.
6. What strategic advantage did the demonstrators gain by deciding to remain in jail rather than posting the $50 bail?
Their purpose was to clog the court system and the jails, thereby increasing the pressure on the government.
7. Mr. Lawson instructed the demonstrators to look their attackers in the eye. What was his purpose in giving this instruction?
It brought home to the attackers that they were hurting human beings.
8. The sit-ins, the marches, and the boycott were designed to address many audiences. Describe some of the audiences and explain the demonstrators’ reasons for targeting them.
Seven of the audiences and the reasons for targeting them were: (1) the segregationists, because nonviolent mass action always seeks to change the minds of the opponents; (2) the public officials of Nashville, because they held the power of arrest and controlled the government; (3) the Nashville business community, because these people had a lot of influence with the public officials; this group was particularly vulnerable to the sit-ins because the controversy disrupted business; (4) the people of Nashville, because nonviolent mass action always appeals to the sense of justice of the community which can pressure those in power to change the policy, especially in a democracy; (5) the citizens of the nation, for the same reasons as the people of Nashville; the sit-ins were a major factor in getting Congress to pass a public accommodations law that prohibited racial segregation in restaurants, including lunch counters; (6) politicians outside of Memphis, particularly at the national level, for the purpose of convincing them to pass laws banning discrimination; and (7) the people of the world, because Americans and U.S. public officials would be embarrassed by the failure of the U.S. to live up to the principles of the Declaration of Independence.
9. The students considered the mass arrests to be a victory. What was their reasoning?
It meant that the government officials didn’t know how to deal with the protests. Arrests and imprisonment of many clean-cut, well-dressed college students angered the larger community and demonstrated that something was going on in Nashville that people should pay attention to.
10. When he was a young man, Mr. Lawson went to jail rather than cooperate in any way with the United States military. People have very different opinions about whether this was a patriotic act. However, looking at the accomplishments of Mr. Lawson over his long career, do you think he was a patriotic American?
This is an opinion question for which there is no single correct answer. A good answer will mention most of the following facts: Mr. Lawson knew what he thought was right and what he believed was best for the country; he acted on those beliefs. Even when he went to jail for resisting the draft, he didn’t try to run away and he didn’t try to take the easy way out. He stood up for his principles and took the punishment that society required of him. It is clear that he always had the best interests of the country at heart. Standing up for your principles is a very patriotic thing to do. Mr. Lawson’s work in the Civil Rights Movement was definitely a benefit to the country.
Questions 4 & 6 have been adapted from Question #3 in the Discussion Questions suggested in the website from the filmmakers. The answers have been supplied by TWM.
Written by James Frieden.
James Lawson and
His Contributions to the United States
James Lawson was a leading figure in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. He was born into a family of Methodist ministers in 1928 and started preaching in his own right in 1947 when he graduated from high school. As a young man, Mr. Lawson became a committed pacifist. During the Korean War (1950-1953) he was eligible for both a student and a ministerial deferment. Mr. Lawson declined to apply for either of them, refusing to cooperate with a system that made war. As a result he served thirteen months in federal prison for refusing to cooperate with the draft law. Upon his release, Mr. Lawson served as a missionary, campus minister, and coach at Hislop College in Nagpur, India. There he studied Satyagraha, the principles of nonviolent civil disobedience developed by Mohandas Gandhi. Mr. Lawson returned to the United States in 1955 at which time he met Dr. Martin Luther King, who urged him to come south and get involved in the Civil Rights Movement. “Come now!” Dr. King said, “We don’t have anyone like you down there.”
Moving to Nashville, Tennessee, Mr. Lawson enrolled at the Divinity School of Vanderbilt University and soon began conducting workshops in nonviolence for the organization led by Dr. King, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). While in Nashville and throughout his career, Mr. Lawson trained many future leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in the principles and tactics of nonviolent protest. Jesse Jackson and many others have called him the “teacher” of the movement.
In 1959, student activists trained by Mr. Lawson launched a series of sit-ins that resulted in the integration of lunch counters, restaurants, and other public facilities in Nashville, Tennessee. (For an interview with Mr. Lawson, see Interview: Rev. James Lawson from NPR.) Dr. King called Mr. Lawson the foremost theorist of nonviolence in the world and cited the Nashville sit-ins as a model for a successful campaign of nonviolent mass action.
Mr. Lawson served with distinction in key roles in many of the most important efforts of the Civil Rights Movement. In 1960, he was one of the founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He served as coordinator of the Freedom Rides in 1961. In 1962, Mr. Lawson became minister of the Centenary Methodist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1968, when black sanitation workers in Memphis went on strike for higher wages and union recognition, Mr. Lawson served as chairman of the strategy committee. James Lawson issued the fateful invitation to his friend, Dr. King, requesting his presence in Memphis to support the garbage workers’ strike. Dr. King was assassinated while he was in Memphis.
Mr. Lawson moved to Los Angeles in 1974 to become pastor of the Holman United Methodist church. He is now retired but continues to be active in political and social causes.
People in authority have often been unhappy with James Lawson’s activities. In addition to incurring the ire of the federal government for resisting the draft, he was expelled from Vanderbilt University for his Civil Rights work. He has been jailed in nonviolent civil disobedience activities in Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, California and Washington, D.C. He has objected to U.S. military involvement abroad, particularly to the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the wars in Iraq. He has opposed U.S. policy toward Cuba and U.S. policy in Central America. He has supported the rights of Palestinians, the demands of workers for increased wages and union representation, and the requests of gays and lesbians for equal treatment.
The Audiences Which the Demonstrators
Were Trying to Reach
The sit-ins, the marches, and the boycott were designed to address many audiences. The following describes seven of these audiences and the reasons they were targeted by the protesters.
(1) the segregationists, because nonviolent mass action always seeks to change the minds of the opponents;
(2) the public officials of Nashville, because they held the power of arrest and controlled the government;
(3) the Nashville business community, because these people had a lot of influence with the public officials; this group was particularly vulnerable to the sit-ins because the controversy disrupted business;
(4) the people of Nashville, because nonviolent mass action always appeals to the sense of justice of the community which can pressure those in power to change the policy, especially in a democracy;
(5) the citizens of the nation, for the same reasons as the people of Nashville; the sit-ins were a major factor in getting Congress to pass a public accommodations law that prohibited racial segregation in restaurants, including lunch counters;
(6) politicians outside of Memphis, particularly at the national level, for the purpose of convincing them to pass laws banning discrimination; and
(7) the people of the world, because Americans and U.S. public officials would be embarrassed by the failure of the U.S. to live up to the principles of the Declaration of Independence.
RANDALL KENNEDY, Professor, Harvard Law School on the two alternative traditions relating to racism in America:
“I say that the best way to address this issue is to address it forthrightly, and straightforwardly, and embrace the complicated history and the complicated presence of America. On the one hand, that’s right, slavery, and segregation, and racism, and white supremacy is deeply entrenched in America. At the same time, there has been a tremendous alternative tradition, a tradition against slavery, a tradition against segregation, a tradition against racism.
I mean, after all in the past 25 years, the United States of America has seen an African-American presence. As we speak, there is an African-American vice president. As we speak, there’s an African- American who is in charge of the Department of Defense. So we have a complicated situation. And I think the best way of addressing our race question is to just be straightforward, and be clear, and embrace the tensions, the contradictions, the complexities of race in American life. I think we need actually a new vocabulary.
So many of the terms we use, we use these terms over and over, starting with racism, structural racism, critical race theory. These words actually have been weaponized. They are vehicles for propaganda. I think we would be better off if we were more concrete, we talked about real problems, and we actually used a language that got us away from these overused terms that actually don’t mean that much. From Fahreed Zakaria, Global Public Square, CNN, December 26, 2021
Give your students new perspectives on race relations, on the history of the American Revolution, and on the contribution of the Founding Fathers to the cause of representative democracy. Check out TWM’s Guide: TWO CONTRASTING TRADITIONS RELATING TO RACISM IN AMERICA and a Tragic Irony of the American Revolution: the Sacrifice of Freedom for the African-American Slaves on the Altar of Representative Democracy.