Christopher W. Schmidt
Protest and Legal Change in the Civil Rights Era
University of Chicago Press 2018
New Books in African American StudiesNew Books in American StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in LawNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network June 22, 2018 Mark Klobas
The sit-in movement that swept the Southern states in 1960 was one of the iconic moments of the post-World War II civil rights movement. Yet the images of students patiently sitting at “whites-only” lunch counters conveys only one facet of a complex series of events. In The Sit-Ins: Protest and Legal Change in the Civil Rights Era (University of Chicago Press, 2018), Christopher W. Schmidt chronicles the movement and its impact on the political and legal struggle for civil rights for African Americans. As Schmidt explains, prior to the sit-ins the main civil rights organizations were fighting segregation primarily through the courts. The incremental pace of change frustrated younger activists, with four students at North Carolina A&T ultimately deciding to fight segregation through direct protest. Yet the lunch counter protests they inspired were viewed with considerable ambivalence by the civil rights leadership, who were doubtful that the counters could be compelled to accept black patrons under existing law. Their uncertainly was reflected on the Supreme Court, where the justices’ division on the legality of segregation in privately-run facilities ultimately left the matter to be resolved by Congress in the 1964 Civil Rights Act.