Generational approaches to protest
This excerpt reveals some of the less-discussed dynamics of protest, such as its effect on families and the way in which protest, rather than being exclusively goal-oriented, can sometimes be fun. Peerman remembers her mother's "silent approval" of her protest efforts, despite the fact that it was often her father's job to disperse protesters. Both her mother and father stressed non-violence, and while Peerman herself never got violent, black students did use violence, especially to punish the children of known racists. This use of force—and expression of power—was "fun."
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
BG: How did your mother see you when you were sitting in at the junior high school asking for more rights. Your father came in and broke up the demonstrations. What was your mother’s viewpoint? Did she talk to you about it?
JP: She knew that we were going through our rebellious-type stage. And it seems like she had very little to say. She kept stressing—they both stressed—the Martin Luther King non-violent method of talking things out. Sit-ins are fine as long as you’re not, you know. It was more or less, you know, if you feel you’re right, as long as you’re not hurting anyone, I support you. But she always said, “But you better not get suspended.” And like I said, several times friends got suspended, and I was right there with them. So that really kind of hurt me. But they didn’t want anything on my school record to follow me through. But she was supportive, more or less. She said very little because she didn’t want to get involved either way, it seemed. She didn’t want to be contradictory to what Dad had said. I think Dad was only there because the school had requested him, the principal had called him. He wasn’t there out of his sense of, “Let me go over here and see--.” He was supposed to be at the hospital [high school] teaching. He was just only doing what his employer had assigned him for that particular day. So it’s not necessarily true he felt we should break up and go back to class.
BG: By your mother’s not saying anything, did you take that as tacit approval that it was OK for you to sit in, or did you not really think about that much?
JP: Um, as more or less a silent approval. I never remember her saying “absolutely not.” And that day that Dad was really mad, I remember her not saying very much at all. So I saw it as a silent approval. She wasn’t as adamant about it but she didn’t see it in progress either. Because Dad saw it. He came out there and saw it.
And it was non-violent for the most part, definitely on my part and the girls. But there were black guys who would go around beating up white boys. Especially those that had done something to them, or called them “nigger” or whatever. Some that the black community or the black kids knew had parents who were red necks—you mentioned Big John, if Big John had a son there we would know that he was a descendant of. I’m not saying he did, but some people knew the families of, they knew “this boy’s a redneck. Let’s beat him up and take his wallet.”
See, Daddy saw that part of it because he was out there. We saw it too and we’d be just standing on the sidelines, “Yes, get him” or whatever. We wouldn’t do anything. But it wasn’t totally non-violent. But there wasn’t blood. It was just a matter of throwing him down on the ground and saying, “you better not mess with no black people in this school.” It was just a feeling of power for us. It was fun. It was fun growing up during that time. It was a learning experience.