“Belles Who Were There . . . 1960 Sit-Ins”: The Gendered Narratives and Commemoration of the Greensboro Sit-Ins

Friday, January 4, 2019: 2:10 PM
Boulevard A (Hilton Chicago)
Jasmin C. Howard, Michigan State University
The dominating narrative of the Greensboro Sit-ins focuses on the actions of the four North Carolina A&T students who entered a Woolworth’s Lunch Counter and demanded service on February 1, 1960. This narrative largely overshadows the roles of the integral cohort from Bennett College, a private university for women, who participated from the second day on. Commemorating the movement, on February 1, 2002 the “February One” monument was dedicated on the campus of North Carolina A&T. The monument features imagery of four male students standing side by side after leaving the Sit-In and this image has become a part of both the collective memories of the Civil Rights Movement and the United States. Prior to the creation of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Museum of American History also featured a Greensboro Sit-Ins exhibit showcasing both iconic images of all-male participants sitting and standing and the actual seats from the Greensboro, North Carolina Woolworth’s. The American History museum exhibit functioned as an advertisement for the new museum thereby tying the important national institution to the legacy of the Greensboro Sit-Ins. Further, when scholars, media and public officials mention the Greensboro Sit-Ins they most exclusively refer to the four students as “men” or “male” foremost. Additionally, one finds further evidence showcasing the importance of the Greensboro Sit-Ins, particularly the imagery of the Greensboro Four, to the construction of post-Civil Rights Movement United States Nationalism and notions of African American patriotism through the particular actions of the Obama Administration. In short, this paper examines popular narratives, scholarship and commemoration of the Greensboro Sit-In Movement through gender. And also analyzes the co-optation of Greensboro Sit-In narratives by public officials and administrators that commemorate past activism while simultaneously quelling contemporary activism which troubles notions of institutional loyalty.
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