At the end of January this year, when our lives were not disrupted by COVID19 and protests, I used an article about the Greensboro Four to help my students identify main ideas and key details. The Greensboro Four sit-in took place at the beginning of February, 1960. I looked back on my journal entry for January 28, 2020 to refresh my memory about this incident and I said, “Some of my black students did not know who the KKK were.” I teach middle school, so I didn’t think that this historical information would be completely new to them. As it became clear that they were not aware of these types of incidents, I experienced an internal conflict. “Should I be the one teaching this to them?” I wondered if their parents would be upset. Is teaching racism like teaching our students about sexual intercourse? Do we need to have approval or let them know we are providing this instruction?
But, I also had white and brown students in my class. If I didn’t talk about this with them and how it was wrong, who would? It’s our job as teachers to use credible documents on historical events without bias. To provide multiple viewpoints on a given topic and use problem solving skills to form the most logical conclusions.
The article on the Greensboro Four described how the four black students sat down at a lunch counter and requested to be served. They were not served because they were black. They refused to give up their seats and because they were being peaceful the police could not remove them. This reimagined sit-in from Ghandi’s peaceful protests sparked a nationwide movement of sit-ins that spread to 55 cities in 13 states by the end of March 1960. By the end of July 1960, the Woolworth lunch counter began serving black people. It’s easy to quickly make the comparison of these sit-ins to the current protests and argue that the 2020 protests will make a difference; that they will prompt change just like they did back in 1960. We can pat ourselves on the back and say that we promise to change and these protests are evidence of our committment. Life will be better for black people going forward.
But, the Greensboro sit-ins were sixty years ago and how much has changed? I recently listened to the podcast ‘It’s Been a Minute’ with Sam Sanders titled, “Not Just Another Protest.” He interviewed his Aunt Betty who had been alive during the Civil Rights protests of the 1960’s. As black people, Sam and Betty concurred that they couldn’t believe that we were at this juncture of standing up for black people’s rights again and how tiring it was for them.
My job requires that I spend forty minutes every day with a small group of students. We get to know each other pretty well. As a teacher you begin to think of your students as your own kids. I’ve been on the outskirst of the protests and not sure how to speak out at times. But, when I think about these kids, my heart is pulled and I feel a need to take action. When we read the article about the Greensboro Four, I was angered and astonished when my sweet little twelve-year-old black student said to me, “Why are they burning a cross in the front of his house?” and then another student of color said, “That doesn’t make sense if you are Christian and you’re burning a cross.” No, I say to them. It doesn’t make any sense at all.
I have been an advocate at our school for implementing a school-wide diversity curriculum, but it has not been a top priority. We have a very small population of POC in our district. But, this is the type of curriculum that should be a top priority in a mostly white community. It is only through unbiased public education that we can have an impact on students who may have viewpoints that could instigate harmful behavior towards their fellow students. A viable education on diversity in public education is where change that lasts can happen. And we have to follow through, otherwise, my children will be sitting down in another sixty years and writing a post just like this one.
Here is a link to information about the Greensboro Four https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/the-greensboro-sit-in