Traveling Exhibit Commemorates 50th Anniversary of Tennessee Sit-Ins

The landmark events that helped shape the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s are the focus of a traveling exhibition opening at the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center on December 9, 2011.

The exhibit, entitled We Shall Not Be Moved: The 50th Anniversary of Tennessee’s Civil Rights Sit-Ins continues through January 22, 2012, and is free to the public.

During the 1950s and 1960s, African Americans began mobilizing in a massive movement against segregation. This included non-violent, direct action campaigns, which culminated in sit-in demonstrations, economic boycotts, and marches.

Fifty years ago, a handful of Nashville college students from Fisk University, Tennessee A&I (later Tennessee State), and American Baptist Theological Seminary along with religious leaders Kelly Miller Smith and James Lawson, began a sit-in campaign targeting downtown lunch counters. These actions sparked the formation of a mass sit-in movement, which became the model used across Tennessee and the rest of the South.

These actions will be examined in this special exhibition, organized by the curatorial staff at the Tennessee State Museum.  The exhibit also looks at segregation in the state and how significant resistance developed in African American communities.

Although the sit-ins were organized as a non-violent action, occasionally students were met with violence from white bystanders, however it was usually the protesting students who were arrested and taken to jail. The exhibit examines why these students were willing to face possible violence and endure incarceration, and how their parents reacted.

The exhibit covers similar events which occurred in Chattanooga, Memphis and Knoxville and other locales.

Along with period photographs of these events, the exhibit includes such artifacts as signage, which has been preserved to show examples of segregation during this time.  Other important artifacts include a letter from a sit-in participant describing a protest and other items related to the sit-ins.

We Shall Not Be Moved: The 50th Anniversary of Tennessee’s Civil Rights Sit-Ins will be on view December 9 through January 22, 2012, in the center’s Special Exhibits area. Located at 121 Sunny Hill Cove in Brownsville, Tenn., the museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday and is free to the public. Visit www.westtnheritage.com for more information.