Bennett's Sit-in Story

Bennett's Civil Rights Stories

"We have to realize we are building a movement." - Dr. Dorothy I. Height 

The Church Embraces the Movement

Christian beliefs and religious traditions spiritually armed Bennett College and NC A&T students during the civil rights movement and sit-in demonstrations.There were pastors in Greensboro who played a major role in the desegregation of the Woolworth’s lunch counter.   

Bennett College’s chaplain Michael A. Stanley was one of the activists in holy cloth. Stanley was the chaplain during the demonstrations from 1962 to 1964. The former chaplain recalls the civil rights and sit-in demonstration as more of a spiritual movement. “It was a movement that the students felt that there would be victory because God was in the movement, and it was the right thing to do morally and spiritually and religious in response to the call of Jesus,” says Stanley. He became chaplain after Reverend Corry, who was also an activist and the former pastor at St. Mathews Methodist Church.  Stanley says in those days students were mostly protesting for things they couldn’t afford.  “You can’t go to a restaurant if you don’t have money. So it was totally almost a spiritual movement.”

Songs and prayer became an important part of this movement. Students began their meetings and demonstrations with prayers and songs. “All of the songs were songs by enlarge that came out of the Christian religious tradition like: ‘We shall over come,’ ‘We shall not be moved’ all those songs were spiritual songs,” says Stanley.

Lewis A. Brandon was an A&T student during the 1960s demonstration. Brandon participated in the sit-in movement. He was also a member of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality), which was mostly made up of Bennett and A&T students.The A&T student remembers churches also played a financial role during the movement.  Brandon says many of them would take up collections to support the movement.  “There were particular churches that divided dollars, Shiloh Baptist Church, you could name a number of them and it wasn’t always the lager churches,” says Brandon.

Stanley says the students did not meet on campus.  He says local churches allowed them to meet in their sanctuaries.  Churches like Providence Baptist Church, Shiloh Baptist Church and The Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, which was the headquarters of CORE.  All the churches provided office space and a safe haven for students to meet and plan their demonstrations. 

- Nezile Mthembu

Civil Rights is Not Black Nor White 

Ethnicity does not determine a person’s role as an activist. The civil rights movement of the 1960’s was a time when many African Americans thought they were alone with no help from whites due to Jim Crow and segregation. However, on the campus of Bennett College for Women that was not the case. A historically black college was not an all black institution. Approximately 2% of the student population at most HBCU’s at the time were white.  Bennett had several white women students who fought against segregation. 

 “Caucasian women who were willing to fight for justice faced the reality of being the minority and protested along with blacks,” says Jean Neff Herbert a white graduate of Bennett College’s class of 1963.  Herbert says during the sit-in era students were greeted with more than just your average college experience. Along with books and classes, they were faced with the reality of Jim Crow Laws, segregation, and inequalities to minorities. Which left them with choices and decisions to make if they would fight for change.    

Although African American’s are considered to be the minority group, during the civil rights era whites willing to help blacks were the true minority.  “It wasn’t about being a minority or majority it was about making sure justice was served,” says Herbert. “We had a duty to march, picket, and sit at the counters along with the African American students to show that we wanted a change as well,” says Herbert.   Many people believe that the change came from the Greensboro Four Sit-In. However, Herbert says all activists played a role in bringing about change.  Herbert’s story isn’t unique there were many whites who stepped across the picket lines to stand-up for what they believed was right, and that was to end segregation.  Even if that meant it went against their own families and teachings.

 - Candyce Roberts 

New Generation Belles with an Old Generation Purpose 

Current Belles are working to show that they do take part in making a change in the community. Martina Gibbs a senior Women’s Studies major had the privilege to sit on the planning committee for the 50th anniversary of the sit-in movements. 

“As a Bennett Belle I must take part in making sure our story is told,” says Gibbs.  She wanted to be sure that a Bennett student was there to tell the missing parts of Bennett’s story.   Gibbs’ duty during the anniversary celebration was to act as an assistant liaison between Bennett College and the celebration coordinators. “My main job was to make sure things were pulled together and people were where they needed to be,” says Gibbs.  Bennett students have always played a role in pulling together the community. “ President Willa B. Player supported strategy sessions by making space available on Bennett Colleges Campus,” says Dr. Linda Brown a member of Bennett’s class of 1961.  Dr. Brown is also the current Willa B. Player Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Bennett College.   

“Today’s Belles are still striving for equality among all people because that is what has been instilled in us,” says Jasmine Lewis a sophomore. Bennett students say it is up to today’s generation to keep the mission of the sit-in acts alive. “The Bennett women who took part in the sit-in movement were trend setters they were at a point where women could not do different things. Women could not wear pants nor be spontaneous so we definitely have huge shoes to fill,” says Gibbs.   In the spirits of filling huge shoes Bennett College was represented at a majority of the February 1st anniversary events.  Gibbs says her favorite event was the forum hosted by Ed Gordon.  “It showed that people where still on fire for change.”  Along with Ed Gordon and other prominent guests Denyqua Rodriguez SGA president at Bennett College also spoke. “It is my responsibility to be active in my community,” says Rodriquez.  Bennett students are keeping the legacy of Belles being student activist. 

- Candyce Roberts

It's OUR Day

  “I can remember standing outside of Woolworth’s during the 50th anniversary [of the sit-ins]…all of the [North Carolina A&T State University] Aggies were screaming ‘Aggie Pride’,” says Michael Griffin, a sophomore Marketing major at A&T. “Following that, I heard a small group of women screaming, ‘Bennett Belles’. I looked at my friend and said, ‘Why are they attempting to represent their institution, when it’s not about them? This is OUR day.’ Responses like these from the Aggies of A&T and other college students could be heard throughout the day. 

The now famous picture of the Greensboro Four at the lunch counter of Woolworth’s could be seen upon entering the International Civil Rights Museum, which opened exactly fifty years after the February 1, 1960 sit-ins, also known as February One. The names of the Greensboro Four floated around throughout the festivities commemorating their historic actions.     

 “Around A&T, it’s all about the FOUR. The actions taken by Ezell Blair, Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil and David Richmond contribute to the essence of Aggie Pride and also the ongoing advancement of African-Americans as a whole on a daily base,” Griffin says. “We bask and literally LIVE in the accomplishments of the A&T Four.” The contributions of Bennett Belles during that time tend to get put behind those of the four A&T students. In April of 1960, 13 Belles were arrested and later acquitted for their involvement in the sit-ins.     

“From the 50th Anniversary Celebration, I remember them saying that Bennett women were at the lunch counter the second day to help maintain the strength of what the A&T Four started the day before. As time went on, they continued to support A&T and organize their own students in the sit-ins,”  says Felicia Lawrence, a sophomore Journalism and Mass Communications major at A&T. People traveled from many places, including students from Howard University, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary. Two of the Howard students, Tatenda Guego and Brittani Moncreast, both said that they were not aware of Bennett’s involvement before traveling to Greensboro.   

“We’ve been traveling back and forth to Bennett over these last two days to learn more information,” Moncreast said during her visit to Greensboro. “Their work was one of the major forces behind it all, and a lot of times, Bennett goes unnoticed.”    

Although many Aggies may still not understand why Belles make noise when their contributions are not made known, one Aggie has changed his mind. “I felt guilty when I was indoctrinated in reference to the true history of the matter,” says Griffin. “Bennett College played an integral role in multiple sit-ins that transpired locally.  I firmly believe that actions should be taken, in order to educate the world about [its] contributions.” 

- Briana Barner