Civil disobedience was key in the pursuit of equality for African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement. Through forms of peaceful protest, African Americans were able to bring to light the socio-economic inequalities they faced and forced the government and general public to do something about it. Sit-ins, one method of practicing civil disobedience, took root in the early 1960s and quickly became a popular and effective form of peaceful protest. James Baldwin makes a very brief note of sit-ins in his essay “Down at the Cross”. Its brief mention is probably due to the time at which the essay was written, just before sit-ins became a national phenomenon. At first glance, one may think that Baldwin doesn‘t think much change will happen from the sit-in movement. However, the urgency to take immediate action as described in his essay hints toward sit-ins as being a possible solution to ending discrimination in public spaces.
Sit-ins were a form of peaceful protest where a person, in this case an African American or a supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, would sit in a restaurant that was known to deny service to African Americans and would refuse to give up the seat until served by the establishment. In effect, this would force the establishment to either integrate their establishment or call the police. If the latter was done, it was usually publicized. The media is of great importance because it forces the public to see what is going on. It also encouraged other cities to follow suit and perform them in their locales. The movement also spread to other sectors like housing and retail.
The magnitude of the movement can be seen through various articles that have been pr...
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...d change the history of the world” (346-47).
If you don’t act now, you might never have the chance to in the future. This is what Baldwin is trying to tell the reader. By connecting this text to what is currently going on in the streets and across the nation, you could say that the reader hears him. This essay is an indirect reaction to the sit-in movement that dominates the country at the time it was written. So the essay in fact, applauds the movement because it is following the intricate words Baldwin uses in his essay.
Baldwin, James. “Down At The Cross.” 1955. James Baldwin: Collected Essays. Ed. Toni Morrison. New York: Library of America, 1998. 296-347.
“Negroes to Broaden Restaurant Sit-Ins.” New York Times 16 Dec. 1961: 18.
Robinson, Raymond. “’Massive Sit-Ins’ Planned in City.” New York Times 18 Jun. 1961: 54.
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