Junior high sit-ins
In this excerpt, Peerman remembers sitting-in in the halls of her Phillips Junior High School. The students protested without violence, but Peerman described herself as "seriously militant." Her attitude created tension between her and her father, who was often asked by white administrators to make black protesters return to their classrooms. This excerpt reveals some of the personal dynamics of protest as well as their organizational aspects—junior high student protesters often marched in imitation of high schoolers, continuing to protest although they "didn’t have any great concerns."
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Joanne Peerman, February 24, 2001. Interview K-0557. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
When I was at the junior high school, the nation was full of racial tension. A lot of the schools were having marches and sit-ins and protests. We, too, were doing the same. That was early integration. The blacks and whites had only been together maybe two, three years prior to my junior high school years. And so we still felt that we were not being fairly represented on cheerleader squads or having enough black teachers that we could relate to. These were some of the things that our little marches were about.
When we did have marches, a lot of times the principal, the people didn’t know how to handle us. They were always peaceful, they were always non-violent, but it was just a matter of us refusing to go to class and sitting in. It was more like a sit-in. We’d just be out in the hall, in the lobby of the main school, sitting there and singing some Black Power songs we’d heard off of TV that didn’t even relate to the situation. But we felt this is how it was supposed to be done. But we were young—seventh, eighth, ninth grade. Just refusing to go to class.
And of course, that created an uproar. The bell would ring and the white students would have to walk between us and try to get to their classes. We’d be sitting in the hall singing and picking our Afros. Eventually, after about two hours, the school system often called somebody that they thought could drive the students back to class or come to some solution. Oftentimes, that was my dad. And that would embarrass me. That would make me feel like, “Wow, he’s the Tom. Here he comes. He’s going to mess up everything.” For a while, I was seriously militant. I was seriously revolutionary. I was against even them, because they were part of the establishment.
I was embarrassing him. I remember one night coming home from school and he was coming home from whatever, practice. And he said, “I don’t want you participating in any more of those marches. If you do I’m going to tie you to a tree and shoot you with my shotgun.” That was the maddest that I had ever seen him at me. I think, just like I was embarrassed that he came to break up our sit-in, he was embarrassed that I was participating. He just looked at me and shook his head and said, you know, “You need to go on back to class, now.” During those sit-ins and marches, even though they were non-violent, a lot of kids got expelled—well, not expelled, but suspended for like a week or three days or whatever. And I never did. And that made me feel bad. I think it was because of my dad’s connection to the whole situation. Because I was right out there with them. Because they got suspended and I didn’t and that made me feel bad. And that created tension in the home, that he was part of the establishment.
BG: Did you perceive him as wanting the same rights for black people that you wanted? Maybe you didn’t. How did you perceive him?
JP: At that time I just perceived him as a disciplinarian and part of the other side that was just trying to break us up and send us back to class and not listen to what we had to say. And eventually, two or three months down the road, everybody came to the realization—probably not him, but probably their discussion of how we’re going to handle these students that keep having sit-ins—they made us form a committee who wrote down demands. They would meet with a smaller group of the black students. They felt like that was a better way of handling it. And it was, to a degree. As I said, we were just young and we were following in the footsteps of what we heard was going on at the high school. A lot of us—not me, but a lot of my friends—were sisters and brothers of other kids who, “They’re going to march on Friday; we’re going to march too.” It was just more or less, we were just following a path. Sometimes we didn’t even have a purpose or anything. And that’s what these student representatives showed us, by, you know, “OK, five students will meet with the principal and two teachers and we’ll write down your demands.” And they had those little meetings. We didn’t even have any great concerns. Or if we did, a lot of them were resolved.
Even the players on some of the teams participated when we were trying to get more black cheerleaders. Because they had cheerleader tryouts. All the cheerleaders were white, and all the team was black, with the exception of a few—it was like 80-20. We really felt like we should have more cheerleaders to support the team. And so even the team said that they would not play if we didn’t have more--. It got to be more organized. It came together for a purpose. We won some of our demands.