How Students Started A Revolution
By Shilloh Gill
The sit-ins at Rich’s department store in Atlanta, Georgia are a forgotten story of resilience, hard work, and sacrifice for change. The Atlanta sit-ins were not just an isolated incident, but rather a string of demonstrations.
This points to the determination of the people involved. All too much, we focus on the protests and demonstrations that occur every day, but we often forget to focus our attention on the individual people that make it happen.
Whether a demonstration is agreed with or not, the question must be asked, what made the people involved dedicate themselves to this cause? Who are they? What are their motivations? Did it pay off in the end? For the students involved in The Committee on Appeal for Human Rights, it was worth it.
Their message was something that they deeply believed in and nothing would stop them.
The Committee on Appeal for Human Rights (COAHR) was started originally by students Lonnie King, Julian Bond and Joseph Pierce in February 1960. Together they saw a need in their community for equality. The same privileges afforded to others was what they were seeking.
With a nudge of inspiration from the Greensboro, North Carolina sit-in prior, they knew that a sit-in in their community could have some impact as well. They started spreading the word to schools under the umbrella of the Atlanta University Center. These schools included Morehouse, Spelman, Clark, Atlanta University, Morris Brown and the Interdenominational Theological Center.
Each participant had to go through some form of non-violent training and had to sign a promise to uphold that standard
Their initial plan of action was to hold a meeting, but they had to figure out what they were fighting for first. They believed that establishing a foundation of nonviolence in their doctrine and requirements was the right first step. Each participant had to go through some form of non-violent training and had to sign a promise to uphold that standard.
As the group began to swell, university presidents that had students actively involved, began to become a bit unnerved by what was taking place. A common criticism was that they didn’t believe it was within the best interest of the students to participate in demonstrations or anything that could cause harm to them or the name and reputation of the college.
So in exchange for these criticisms, it was advised that the students within COAHR present a letter detailing what issues they saw within their communities, why it was ethically wrong, and why it should not continue.
These grievances were then to be published so others could see them and be endorsed by the student leaders of each university involved.
This document was a suggestion by the presidents to demonstrate that the group was serious, had reasons for its assembly, and could show others that they were organized.
Their document has been described as a letter, list, well thought out plea and even a manifesto of sorts. It changed the course and outlook of this student group forever. With newcomers to the group, Herschelle Sullivan, Carolyn Long, Morris Dillard, and Rosyln Pope, the document flourished with carefully stunning and engaging language.
The group decided to entitle it, An Appeal for Human Rights. The main author, Rosyln Pope, and others took this document everywhere they could. It caught the attention of
the masses almost immediately.
It was unlike any other student group because they now had a manifesto that showed the world what they were fighting for.
In the next days, weeks, and months, letters upon letters poured into COAHR praising the document for its uniqueness and depth. It was mature, it was relatable, and it was something students in the north and south felt that they could relay around. Students from Syracuse and Ohio University sent letters of gratitude to the students for articulating what had been on the hearts and minds of many for far too long.
It caught the attention of the masses almost immediately. It was unlike any other
student group because they now had a manifesto that showed the world what they were
However, even within the wake of the students’ success, there was still mass criticism from those who did not want to hear nor accept the changes the students were demanding. Critics such as, then governor, Ernest Vandiver thought that the students were bordering the line of Communism. He called the document a “left-wing statement…calculated to breed dissatisfaction, discontent, discord and evil.”
No matter the criticism, though, the students would go on to see the first round of Atlanta sit-ins and much more influence in their community. Their hard work and dedication helped with gaining the support of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the sit-ins at Rich’s, and achieving the main goal of lunch counter desegregation in Atlanta.