Selected Excerpts from Book
Chapter 6: The Beginning of Change in Mississippi
Excerpt: The Morning of the Sit-In
Pearlena Lewis didn’t sleep very well the night before the sit-in. Her feelings were a jumble: somewhat anxious though also excited, Lewis felt honored that, despite her youth, Medgar Evers had chosen her for a key role in the demonstration. She awoke early and gave her family no warning of what she was about to do; she had told Evers she felt “of age to make [this] decision myself.” She had gotten her hair done the day before and decided to wear a simple blue and white knit outfit: “nice, but not overly dressed,” she recalled. (In the early 1960s, students still dressed up for civil rights demonstrations to show their respectability.) Lewis left the house early and joined Evers and Lillian Louie at the NAACP offices adjacent to the Masonic Temple.
It was a warm, muggy Mississippi morning, with clouds rolling in from the west and a thunderstorm expected later in the day. Lewis confided to Louie her mixed emotions. “I wasn’t frightened,” she would recollect years later. “It was just a matter of not knowing what would happen.”
The Tougaloo crowd arrived at the Masonic Temple about 9:30 that morning and reviewed the agreed-upon plan once more. Lewis, Memphis Norman, and Annie Moody would be driven to a spot convenient to Woolworth’s Capitol Street entrance. They would enter the store at 11:00, browse separately for some small items to purchase, and then, at precisely 11:15, converge on the lunch counter. Lewis gave her watch to Norman so he would know when to give the signal for them to take their seats.
Salter also went over plans for the second demonstration, scheduled for 11:30, just up the street from Woolworth’s near one of the busiest downtown intersections. Though the picketing would be done by an integrated group, white and black picketers would be driven to the scene separately so as not to raise suspicion. Carrying their signs in paper bags, the groups would arrive at the agreed-upon spot from two different directions, then pull out the signs and begin walking up and down before another targeted store. Both the picketing and the sit-in strategies contained an element of surprise, a favorite Salter tactic. Additionally, to ensure the police didn’t figure things out too quickly and arrest the protesters before the media arrived, more young people—including George Raymond—would leave the Masonic Temple at intervals to act as decoys, walking up and down Capitol Street, entering stores or window-shopping at will. The police would have to follow everyone leaving the temple and would not know which students were the demonstrators.
It was Evers’s job to handle the media. He called the local newspapers and TV stations around 10:30 to tell them to expect some action on Capitol Street within the hour. As on other occasions, the media contacted the police, who were thus on full alert when the groups left the Masonic Temple ten minutes later, split up, stepped into cars, and headed toward the downtown area.
About the Author
It was while visiting the Martin Luther King Center for Social Change in Atlanta, Georgia in 1991 that M. J. O’Brien conceived the work that has become We Shall Not Be Moved. As part of its civil rights display, the King Center showed a photograph of the 1963 Jackson, Mississippi Woolworth’s sit-in—a photograph that has become the image used in history books and magazine articles to show what a sit-in was like. O’Brien was captivated by the photograph because at its center was a woman, Joan (Trumpauer)Mulholland, whom he had known for a number of years.
We Shall Not Be Moved is a labor of love. Primarily created in the late 1990s and finally brought to life through the auspices of the University Press of Mississippi, it is a story of triumph and determination that was captured by the now-iconic Fred Blackwell photograph. Although its publication was delayed (as told in Acknowledgements), timing is everything. The book was supposed to be published in 1999, but for a variety of reasons, it is only reaching a broader public today. And that is as it should be. We are on the cusp of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Jackson Woolworth’s Sit-In (May 28, 1963) and the courageous souls who decided, one-by-one , to sit in at the counter that day are being recognized for their contribution to the overall civil rights struggle.