When people hear about the well-known 1960 sit-in movement, most think of the iconic “Greensboro Four.” But what many people don’t know is that women also played an integral role in this iconic event — and several Bennett Belles marched alongside them.
While sit-ins had occurred prior to that pivotal February, four male students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University were the first to spark protests and media attention country-wide in regards to racism and discrimination.
Now it was a different time when this sit-in occurred, making it dangerous for women to be on the front lines and physically sit at the Whites-only lunch counter. So instead, the men took the lead during this particular movement while the women stayed behind the scenes on day one.
However, the women were at the forefront of this civil rights movement, involved in everything from the initiating, planning, and strategizing of when and where protests would take place. Therefore, we choose to remember this momentous day with the help of the “Greensboro Eight,” continuing the College’s pattern of disruption and social activism beginning over a century ago.
Bennett’ Longstanding History Of Social Justice & Activism
Decades before the College joined in solidarity with the 1960 sit-in protests, Bennett Belles picketed the Carolina Theater in 1938. At the time, films that featured African Americans in a positive light routinely had these scenes deleted before they were shown to the public in theater, causing widespread outrage in the Black community.
Bennett students also protested the limiting roles that African American actors were awarded in the 1930s. It was common to see Black actors cast as butlers, drivers, laborers, maids, and mammies while holding onto and even romanticizing the idea of the “Old South.”
Bennett’s involvement in these protests did not get nearly the attention as the Greensboro sit-ins, but they were well-documented. Linda Brown, a Bennett Belle at the time, sat in on the third day in 1960, and later wrote a book documenting her experience. The book tells a more complete story of the sit-in protests, and how the very actions that captured the nation’s attention were actually carefully planned on the Bennett College campus.
Even Martin Luther King struggled to find anywhere to speak when he came to Greensboro in 1958. However under the leadership of President Willa B. Player, Bennett College gave him a stage, the speech itself leading to the Bennett Belles protest group formation. Player was quoted saying, “Bennett is a liberal arts college where freedom rings, so Martin Luther King Jr. can speak here.”
Bennett has a long history of disruption alongside civil and social engagement, while recognizing those who had the courage to stand up for what they believed in.
REBELLIOUS: The Story Of Four Bennett Belles During The Sit-in Movement
In honor of Bennett’s long history of civic disruption and social rebellion, Triad Stage will bring greater awareness to the impact our Bennett Belle alumna had on the sit-in movement. Based on Brown’s book Belles of Liberty: Gender, Bennett College And The Civil Rights Movement, Mike Wiley developed the performance Rebellious, following four Bennett Belles as they navigate the complexities of racism and oppression that dictated their everyday lives in Greensboro.
As Brown explains, there were hundreds of women who organized the protests, in addition to those who marched and were incarcerated from 1960–1963. During that period, President Player was a staunch supporter of her students, bringing them food and blankets, and even holding classes at the jail.
Rebellious tells the story of four particular Bennett Belles — Berta, Spicy, Geneva, and Gloria. The four women come together to both define their personal identities while taking a stand for what they believe is right.
Please join us at the performance premiering on October 4th at 7:30 pm at the Pyrle Theater in Greensboro. Tickets are available in person, by phone, or online. The theater is located at 232 South Elm Street, and the phone number is 336-272-0160.
For more information, please visit Triad Stage.