Monday, July 18, 2005


Today the Sun News carried an Associated Press story about a reunion of a handful of black men and women who defied Jim Crow laws in Greenville, South Carolina, to segregate the public library there.

45 years later, students who staged library sit-in gather

By Heidi Coryell Williams

The Associated Press

GREENVILLE - Benjamin Downs can't recall whether he was one of six or eight Sterling High School students who, 45 years ago Saturday, intentionally broke the law by reading inside the "whites-only" Greenville County public library.

He remembers flipping through a magazine - Field and Stream, he thinks - but he wasn't really reading. He was too worried. Worried about his female companions sitting at a nearby table and worried for himself - about being arrested for the first time in his life.

He was wondering what his mother, the sole breadwinner for the family, would think, and he worried whether she - like some of his friends' parents - would be forced out of that job as a result of his actions.

For Dorris Wright, being arrested was nothing new, and on July 16, 1960, she was ready to be jailed again, this time for staging the sit-in at the North Main Street library. She had been arrested once for sitting in front of a city park and once for refusing to move to the back of a bus.

Her mother encouraged her activism, Wright said, because "it was a means to an end."
Elaine Means simply hated to hear the word, "no," especially when she knew her parents paid the same taxes the white families across town did and yet blacks couldn't use most of Greenville's public facilities.

And for the Rev. Jesse Jack-
son, it was sheer disbelief that he had to wait six whole days for a book that, though unavailable at the black library on McBee Avenue, was sitting on a shelf at the white facility. He could easily have picked up the book simply by walking or hopping on a city bus, but when he tried, he was stopped at the door.


So the eight students walked through the library doors in an act of civil disobedience, speaking fewer than than 10 words the entire time they were there, Downs said. Fifteen minutes later, a city police officer led them away.

They were arrested, handcuffed, and taken to jail, because they dared to enter the whites-only library and touch the white folks' magazines. Thousands of similarly ordinary (well, Jesse Jackson aside) unassuming people led the fight to de-segregate the South's schools and public facilities. Heroes, all of them.


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