by Molly McGinn • photography by Stephen Charles
How the city’s new, young leaders are using traditions of the past with hashtag activism in the #BlackLivesMatter Greensboro movement.
The four walk through the gift shop at the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, past souvenirs, ballcaps, 1960s Sit-In Movement T-shirts, and through a door marked “Employees Only.” It leads to a large exhibit room and the original Woolworth’s lunch counter where, 55 years ago this month, four students sat down and asked to be served.
Had it happened in 2015 the A&T Four would likely have tweeted that first meeting: #SeparateIsNotEqual.
Today, four new leaders line up in the front of the lunch counter: Alexis Anderson, April Parker, Irving Allen, and Kristen Jeffers. Local photographer Stephen Charles snaps a few pictures. Then Charles says, “Okay, hands up.”
It’s “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” a gesture that’s brought a mix of respect and revolt since it first appeared at protests in the wake of the August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. And it’s just as clear a sign about where you stand on the issues facing black America today as it was for a black man or woman to sit at a lunch counter in 1960s. Only today there’s a museum rope around the lunch counter.
“Trust,” says Parker. “Fifty-five years from now, they’ll thank us.”
In the last four months there’s been a visible increase in civic activity in Greensboro, spearheaded by the national Black Lives Matter movement, and locally mobilized by digital activists like Parker and many others. Motivated by traditions of the Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s, such as the sit-ins, these young leaders are using new tools the keep the conversation going.
In November 210014, using social media and texts, protesters organized a 300-person march from the municipal building to the International Civil Rights Center & Museum and shut down South Elm Street in front of the museum.
In December, faculty, students and staff held a die-in at Bennett College.
In January, protesters packed city-council chambers to voice their support of the museum board’s concerns over the mayor’s offer for the city to run the museum.
This month, protesters held a daylong teach-in at Melvin Municipal Office Building, leading up to a council meeting where the council voted to keep the word “massacre” instead of “shootout” on the historical marker.
“There is increased activism, and I think that is a good thing,” says Mayor Nancy Vaughan, when asked if she’s noticed more civic activity from her side of the dais. “And I hope it will be sustained.”
In response to the Black Lives Matter Greensboro movement, Vaughan says the city is planning a series of conversations and hearings, starting on Feb. 24 at 6 p.m. at Bennett College. The first meeting will be on police accountability and neighborhood relations, Vaughan says.
“You have the trending topics… you see it in your newsfeed,” Anderson says about this hashtag activism. “There’s no way to escape it.”