Civil Rights: Strikes, Sit-ins, and Civil Disobedience

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"We can put on a boycott"
- Modjeska Simkins

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When it came to nonviolent resistance in the form of civil disobedience, women were just as active as men. During her time as secretary of the NAACP, Modjeska Simkins organized several boycotts in Orangeburg County, South Carolina. These boycotts were in response to the White Citizens' Council in Orangeburg, who were boycotting African-American businesses as a result of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision to integrate schools. Instead of shopping in Orangeburg County, the NAACP asked African-Americans to carpool to places like Augusta, Charleston, or Columbia for their purchases. The boycotts lasted for two years, effectively shutting down many businesses in the Orangeburg area.

Mary Smith speaking at a public rally in Memorial Hall

Mary Smith speaking at a public rally
in Memorial Hall, March 1969
- North Carolina Collection

"We are on strike"
- Elizabeth Brooks

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Elizabeth Brooks and Mary Smith were leaders of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Food Workers' Strike, which started on February 24, 1969. Grievances of the food workers, who were primarily African-American women, included not getting placed on the permanent payroll, with a raise, within 90 days of hiring; having to do repetitive, heavy work with no breaks; and suffering a supervisor who, as Brooks described him, "would just stand there over us and watch us, and just, you know, made us feel like that we were just like a bunch of slaves." The strike drew the support of the Black Student Movement (BSM), the Southern Student Organizing Committee (SSOC), and the faculty. Students set up an alternative cafeteria in Manning Hall and picketed alongside the food workers. The strike ended March 21, 1969, when the governor agreed to the food workers' requests for a wage increase, including back pay.