One thing they DID teach us in history, along with all they did NOT, was the history of the lunch counter sit-ins. Somehow that was an almost "nice" part of the Civil Rights movement, along with Dr. King, his eloquent speeches, and the peaceful demonstrations he led.
But anyone who took the time to dig even a little deeper knows full well that even the lunch counter sit-ins had an ugly, vile, side to them. Whites were allowed to taunt, torment, and abuse those who sat patiently. And it was not only black students who sat. Many of these demonstrations were mixed-race, where whites supporters sat with black students, taking their punishment, which may at times have even been more harsh.
Here is one description of some of these events:
Lunch Counter Sit-Ins
I've been mindful of this lately, as we've struggled at the congregation I serve in New Jersey with the decision to post a sign that says, simply BLACK LIVES MATTER, by our own church sign on the road in front of our property, and, as over the succeeding two weeks, we have been the recipients of hateful, spiteful and even threatening calls, emails, and facebook posts, an outpouring shocking both in relation to the percieved "offense" (after all, this is America and we have free speech?) as well as in relation to the location.
When I visited the local AME congregation here in Springfield, KY, a place I've worshipped before, and told the (woman) pastor, she was visibly surprised: "In New Jersey?" she repaeated several times. "I just can not believe it."
Well, believe it, everyone. It's true. And even though we have determined that the majority of facebook posts came from outside the local area, and even from out-of-state, most were from states north of the Mason Dixon line. And, I don't think that whoever took it upon themselves to spray paint over our sign came here from Indiana or Michigan to do so. No, we live amongst racists. We need to look around now, with new vision, vision that has been clouded and confounded too long.
There is much to do.
I'm reading a book called Devil in the Grove. It's a story about the early days of Thurgood Marshall's career and a horrifying case of injustice in Florida. It makes me realize all that our sisters and brothers of color have lived with and dealt with day by day, year by year, in this country. And it makes me realize how little we have acknowledged it.
Hence I propose that putting a sign up that says BLACK LIVES MATTER is an act like sitting at a whites-only lunch counter, although we may not have intended it to be. It is a provocative act. Like those who sat at the counters, we may not leave it there for ever. It has to be followed now by meaningful, courageous work. I simply pray that the import, not of the sign, but of the backlash, will not be lost upon all of us.