Category Archives: History

50 Years Ago Today: Cassius Clay v Sonny Liston

LIFE and Civil Rights: Anatomy of a Protest, Virginia, 1960

Civil Rights

The effect of social media on modern protest movements, and on modernising protest movements, is hotly disputed. Its ability to corral, organise and, in some ways, better prepare participants for the intellectual and physical struggles they might face should not, say advocates, be underestimated. To skeptics it is at best little more than a blunt awareness tool and one that can have a potentially damaging effect. (See ongoing debates surrounding the revolutionary wave of protests in the Arab world from late 2010 – the ‘Arab Spring’ – which many credit as the first to have had social media if not at, then close to, their heart).

In the US in the late 1950s, and then throughout the 1960s, protest preparation was a simpler, communal, yet no less important affair. But then, in so many ways, non-violent civil disobedience was a simpler and more “graceful” means than the violence preferred by many then and today. In May 1960, LIFE magazine set out to document the protest movement and its preparations in Virginia. The images they published in a photo essay in September that year are a stark reminder of the  prejudices African-Americans faced daily, and their extraordinary courage and endurance in challenging them.

“Very few non-violent civil disobedience tactics of the late 1950s and early 1960s were as brilliantly simple in conception and as effective in execution as the sit-ins that rocked cities and towns from Texas and Oklahoma to Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and beyond. Some sit-ins — at lunch counters, state houses and other public and private venues — were more confrontational than others; some lasted longer than others; some were more high-profile than others. But all of them required a certain kind of courage (Hemingway’s phrase, “grace under pressure,” comes readily to mind in this context) and a communal willingness to sacrifice that were hallmarks of the Civil Rights Movement in America from the very first.

Here, as Black History Month kicks off, LIFE.com presents a gallery of photos — many of which never ran in LIFE magazine — from a series of protests and sit-ins in Petersburg, Virgina, in May 1960, and from a broader-themed planning conference sponsored by Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian leadership Council at Atlanta University earlier that month. The pictures, by LIFE’s Howard Sochurek — a Princeton grad, Neiman Fellow at Harvard and WWII Army vet — capture one small but significant exemplar of the sit-in phenomenon, as well as some of the unusual training methods that potential sitters-in endured before taking to the streets and to the seats.

In notes sent to LIFE’s editors in New York from the magazine’s Washington, DC, bureau in May 1960, the sit-in movement’s activities in Virginia were dubbed the “Second Siege of Petersburg” — a tongue-in-cheek reference to the famous siege of the town and nearby Richmond between June 1864 and April 1865 during the Civil War.

The “siege” metaphor, meanwhile, takes on a peculiar resonance in those notes — for example, in a quote from a newspaper publisher in Petersburg, George Lewis, who told LIFE: “I’m against integration. The mood of Petersburg definitely is for segregation. The Negroes are pushing too hard and the whole pace is too fast. Petersburg is not ready for integrated lunch counters. If they integrate them, the whites will boycott. But things are changing slowly. Ten years ago we couldn’t have printed a Negro picture in the paper. The whites wouldn’t have stood for it. Now we print them when they’re in the news. It’s a mark of the progress here. But the Negroes are pushing too hard. They’ve created an explosive situation here in Petersburg.”

Describing a key element of that “explosive situation” — the sit-ins by activists at various lunch counters in town — LIFE wrote in its September 19, 1960, issue (published a full four months after the events described):

“The key to the sit-in is non-violence, but it takes a tough inner fiber neither to flinch nor retaliate when, occasionally, hooligans pick on the sitters-in to discourage them or provoke them into some violent act. Fearing the stress on sensibilities and temper to which a sit-in could be subjected, the high school and college students of Petersburg, Va. studied at a unique but punishing extracurricular school before they attempted sitting-in.

In the course, which they ironically call “social drama,” student are subjected to a full repertory of humiliation and minor abuse. These include smoke-blowing, hair-pulling, chair-jostling, coffee-spilling, hitting with wadded newspaper, along with such epithets as “dirty nigger” and “black bitch.” Anyone who gets mad flunks. So far in Petersburg effective police action and the calm attitude of the townspeople have averted trouble.

Except for a few adult leaders … the sitters-in are youngsters like Virginius Bray Thornton … In a real sense they are the South’s “new” Negro. They are educated, filled with a fierce idealism, chafing impatience and bitterness against the remaining shackles. “This is not a student struggle, it is a Negro struggle,” says Virginius. A baffled white man echoes him: “The older Negroes don’t want integration but these kids are shaming them into it.”

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Sit in Training

Non-Violence Training

Non-Violence Training

MLK Pulpit

Civil Rights Protest

MLK

LIFE

LIFE

Happy Birthday Muhammad Ali

“A rooster crows only when it sees the light. Put him in the dark and he’ll never crow. I have seen the light and I’m crowing.” – Muhammad Ali

U

Drinking with the Presidents

Lincoln

Honest Abe…Apple Cider?

“Round Robin bartender, Jim Hewes, is a dean of the Washington cocktail scene, and also something of a cocktail historian. Every inauguration season, he brings out a special menu of drinks based around what our 44 presidents drank, or might have drunk.”

Here is that list (HT: The Washington Post)

44. Barack Obama: Blue Hawaiian

Combines the president’s penchant for aged Tequila and the cool blue waters of the Pacific. Features aged Tequila, Curacao and fresh lime juice.

43. George W. Bush: Diet cola with a slice of lemon

Light and crisp, able to keep even the busiest Chief Executive, active, alert, and awake.

42. William J. Clinton: Tanquerary Gin and Tonic

A standard on the Washington cocktail circuit.

41. George H. Bush: Absolut Vodka Martini

Always politically correct, with or without garnish.

40. Ronald Reagan: California Sparkling Wine

Introduced to Washingtonians at Reagan’s first Inaugural.

39. Jimmy Carter: Alcohol-Free Sparkling Wine

Served, much to the dismay of the fourth estate, throughout his four years in the White House.

38. Gerald R. Ford: Glenfiddich Whiskey over ice

Served in the spirit of bipartisanship. Gerry also favored Budweiser “longnecks” in the bottle.

37. Richard M. Nixon: Bacardi and Coke.

Dick would relish mixing and stirring for his guests aboard the presidential yacht Sequoia.

36. Lyndon B. Johnson: Cutty Sark and Branch Water

A post-war favorite of “Cactus Jack” Garner and Sam Rayburns’ most famous protege.

35. John F. Kennedy: Beefeater Martini, served up with olives

Served regally in the White House to those in the good graces of America’s “Camelot.”

34. Dwight D. Eisenhower: Johnny Walker Black Label on the rocks.

An acquired taste from his time spent at Allied headquarters in London during WWII

33. Harry S. Truman: Maker’s Mark and soda

An aficionado of Kentucky’s finest, both he and Bess enjoyed this long-drink while playing poker at the White House.

32. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Plymouth Gin Martini

”Oh… so cool, so clean, so awfully civilized!” Often scolded by Eleanor for his penchant for the highball, this elegant elixir was served at the most important political party in DC; the Cocktail Party.

31. Herbert Hoover: Long Island Iced Tea

Prohibition-conscious imbibers relished this enticing tall drink, which contained everything on the bar except “the kitchen sink”.

30. Calvin Coolidge: Cranberry juice and soda

A gentle New England tonic to fortify one’s Puritan constitution.

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Watts Photo Essay – LIFE Magazine,1966

Pork pie hats, wayfarers, buttoned-down gingham shirts; bomber jackets, cardigans and chinos bent up above the ankle. Stylish and politically loaded. Watts, post-1956 riots; July 1966 (via Ubora)

Skinhead and Rudeboy Culture, by Don Letts

Take 12 minutes and watch this brilliant, fascinating Don Letts documentary on music, fashion, politics and style in Skinhead and Rudeboy culture.

Hemingway Wrote Standing Up (Paris Review, 1958)

As did, apparently, Winston Churchill, Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens, Otto von Bismarck, Henry Clay, Thomas Jefferson, John Dos Passos, and Virginia Woolf.

Here is a interesting interview with Hemingway, in the Art of Fiction series,  from the 1958 Paris Review. The introduction alone (the article is by George Plimpton) is a fascinating look at Hemingway’s writing methods.

“Ernest Hemingway writes in the bedroom of his house in the Havana suburb of San Francisco de Paula. He has a special workroom prepared for him in a square tower at the southwest corner of the house, but prefers to work in his bedroom, climbing to the tower room only when “characters” drive him up there.

The bedroom is on the ground floor and connects with the main room of the house. The door between the two is kept ajar by a heavy volume listing and describing The World’s Aircraft Engines. The bedroom is large, sunny, the windows facing east and south letting in the day’s light on white walls and a yellow-tinged tile floor.

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