The Sit-ins That Didn’t Change America

 American history  Comments Off on The Sit-ins That Didn’t Change America
Feb 252010
I recently read an op-ed piece by Andrew B. Lewis for the Los Angeles Times (“The Sit-ins That Changed America,” 1/31/10).  Lewis began the piece:
“The ‘Sixties’ were born on February 1, 1960, 50 years ago last week, when four African-American college students staged the first sit-in at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C.”
Lewis went on to explain how the sit-ins sparked by the Greensboro example revitalized the civil rights movement, which had floundered after failed attempts to integrate southern schools after the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education Supreme Court decision and the successful but foregone Montgomery bus boycott.  Lewis also went on to talk about how the students involved in these sit-ins formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to preserve their independence from the NAACP and the resulting rise of significant young leaders like John Lewis, Julian Bond, Bob Moses, Stokely Carmichael, and Marion Barry.  The success of the civil rights movement thereafter was largely the result of the aggressive egalitarian pattern set by these student protesters, Lewis noted.  Because of these, our country was permanently and significantly changed.
Only, there were sit-ins in Oklahoma City starting in August 1958 that pre-dated the events in North Carolina.  The NAACP Youth Council in Oklahoma City desegregated literally hundreds of restaurants and public spaces between 1958 and 1964.  Their primary shepherd in this was Clara Luper, an activist with the NAACP.  Interestingly, in Oklahoma, it’s the women who most often are the rebels fomenting change.  Luper never got national credit for her leadership like Bond and Carmichael, et al, and the Oklahoma City sit-ins didn’t spark a chain of similar events around the American south.  One has to wonder why.  How is it that Greensboro has become a symbol in our memories but Oklahoma City has been lost to our national consciousness?  I teach my students from a textbook that marks the beginning of the sit-in movement in North Carolina, and we in Oklahoma know better.  We know that it came here first (or, rather, second if you count the Virginia library sit-in from the 1930’s).  We also know that the rest of the country didn’t notice.  I bet most other Americans didn’t even know there was segregation in Oklahoma.  They probably also didn’t know that it was a couple of court cases from Oklahoma that desegregated public universities in the United States.  Our state was a pivotal part of the civil rights movement in the twentieth century, only the rest of the country didn’t pay any attention to it.
So, the question is:  if a civil rights protest happens in Oklahoma and no one else notices it, did it really happen?
 Posted by at 10:04 pm

Estebanico, The Conquistador

 American history  Comments Off on Estebanico, The Conquistador
Feb 112010


The Boy Kelsey (Henry Kelsey, English) set out in 1689 to explore part of inland Canada on behalf of the Hudson Bay Company, to whom he belonged (as an indentured servant).  He took with him an Indian youth as his aide.  Kelsey may not have been more than a teen himself at the time.  The two of them set out on a brief journey of little more than a hundred miles to ascertain the opportunities available for exploitation of the land and its resources.  They met no other Indians.  The Spanish explorers in the Southwest would never travel so lightly.  Everywhere they went in North America, they were escorted by crowds of Indians in the hundreds.  They brought extensive supplies and hordes of workers/fighters on their treks.  They did not rely on the materials at hand for their endeavors;  they brought these with them.  Accordingly, these large, heavy-laden swarms traveled slowly over the many miles.  Indeed, so slowly that often the traveling sluggish masses of exploratory encroachments sent teams on ahead to reconnoiter while the herd followed at some days’ or weeks’ distances behind.  Thus is the difference between a conquistador and an explorer.

One hundred and sixty years before the Boy Kelsey first stepped ashore in Canadian territory, Franciscan priest Marcos de Niza led a group north from Mexico to explore New Mexico.  At first, he traveled with Coronado’s party.  Later, he and his aide Estebanico set off on their own with their assorted Indian retinue.  As they moved deeper inland, they met many Native Americans, who entertained them and provided them shelter along the way.  These natives were fascinated with the white man enrobed in his Franciscan uniform of a grey gown and sandals — so different from their brown faces, cotton wraps, and short boots.  Fray Marcos tarried to minister to the Indians, but sent Estebanico on ahead to explore.  He was to send word back, if he were to find a great discovery.  Estebanico, with his greyhounds at his side, set off with an even smaller team of Indian companions.
Some time later, an Indian runner returned to Fray Marcos with a cross in hand.  It was a sign from Estebanico that he had made a great find!  The priest hurried to catch up to his aide.  Before he could do so, however, word came that Estebanico had been killed by hostile Indians — Zunis who reacted swiftly and fiercely when the Spanish representative informed them that conquerors were coming.  His brothers, Estebanico reportedly told them, were powerful and innumerable, and they were taking possession of the land.  The Zunis killed him before he could return to his many brothers and divulge the location of their pueblos.  Wisely, Fray Marcos turned back when given the news.  He planned to return again later with more reinforcements.
Estebanico was certainly not the first explorer to be denied possession of the New World.  In Roanoke, Virginia and the southern Mississippi Valley, English and French newcomers were also killed by Indians who did not welcome the threats and intrusions.  What makes Estebanico so unique was the fact that he was one of the first explorers to come to North America representing the Spanish crown — to claim the land for God and King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella — and he was a black man from Africa.
(Well, they anglicized John Cabot’s name and hispanicized Christopher Columbus’ too.)
 Posted by at 5:58 pm