Nonviolent Resistance


Protestors are attacked by an angry white crowd during a nonviolent sit-in to integrate Woolworth’s lunch counter in Jackson, Mississippi, 1963. (Photographed by Fred Blackwell.)

On May 28, 1963, Black students and a white professor from Tougaloo College sat peacefully at the lunch counter in the segregated Woolworth’s in downtown Jackson, Mississippi. A mob of white men doused them with ketchup, kicked one student in the face until he lost consciousness, and clubbed the teacher to the floor and poured salt in his wounds.

At a mass meeting that night, Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers vowed, “We’ll be demonstrating here until freedom comes.” Six hundred children joined the protest and were arrested and hauled in garbage trucks to a makeshift jail at the state fairgrounds.

A nationwide campaign of nonviolent civil rights protests began on February 1, 1960, at a lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, and spread across the South and North. In October 1960, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and fifty others were arrested for protesting segregated stores and restaurants in Atlanta. On July 7, 1964, nine Black children were beaten by white men for ordering at a whites-only lunch counter in Bessemer, Alabama.

Nonviolent activists boycotted segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama, for more than a year starting in 1955, and endured police beatings while marching from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 to demand equal voting rights for Black citizens. By choosing means as pure as the ends they sought, the leaders and practitioners of nonviolent resistance seized the moral high ground for the civil rights movement and revolutionized the philosophy and tactics of social protest in America.