The Division of Education at Pfeiffer University, through its REPERTOIRE initiative, recently sponsored two days of events celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Greensboro sit-ins, non-violent actions that prompted the F.W. Woolworth department store chain to abandon its policy of racial discrimination in the southern United States.
The events – coordinated by Dr. Christopher Boe, dean of the division – took place Feb. 17 and 18. He wants them to be the start of an annual social justice initiative involving Pfeiffer’s students, faculty and friends.
“One of the REPERTOIRE goals is to develop teachers for schools who are culturally competent and socially conscious,” he said. “To do this, we must endeavor to provide opportunities for our students, and the greater community, to look beyond themselves to see, appreciate, and understand the myriad people around them. We think one of the best ways to do this is through the exploration of their stories. This project is just the start!”
A little background: REPERTOIRE stands for Recruiting Educators, Preparing Educators, and Retaining Teachers to Optimize Interest in Rural Education. It is funded by a Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) grant of the U.S. Department of Education.
Since 2018, $4.3 million in TQP money has supported a five-year effort by a consortium of Pfeiffer’s Division of Education and its partners, Stanly County and Montgomery County Schools, to recruit, prepare, support, and retain quality educators in hard-to-staff fields in rural areas.
The consortium has committed to a 1:1 match to the aforementioned award. Among the areas that the grant is addressing are literacy education and STEM initiatives as well as teacher preparation – which the sit-in celebrations helped foster.
The celebration events on Feb. 17 were held at Bennett College, a private four-year historically black liberal arts college for women in Greensboro. They commemorated the active participation of student activists called the Bennett Belles in the initial idea formation for the sit-ins and in the subsequent action to desegregate Woolworth’s and other lunch counters.
A Feb. 17 highlight was a screening of Pretty Well Fed Up, a mixed-media graphic film documenting the sit-in movement. This was followed by a lively panel discussion around the role of women, particularly Bennett women, in the sit-in movement – which underscored the importance of including all participants in the stories of history.
Contributing to the panel discussion was Dr. Linda Beatrice Brown, a 1961 graduate of Bennett who participated in the sit-ins and authored Belles of Liberty: Gender, Bennett College and the Civil Rights Movement (Women and Wisdom Foundation Inc., 2013). “Women have had to fight to be seen and have had to be assertive to be heard,” she said. There were many young women in attendance, and Brown encouraged them to be both seen and heard.
Following lunch, high school and college students discussed social justice and community engagement, generating ideas for further work in teaching and learning around these topics.
As for the Feb. 18 events, these were held in Henry Pfeiffer Chapel on the Misenheimer campus of Pfeiffer University. They focused on the historical significance of the Greensboro sit-ins. The day consisted of a screening of Pretty Well Fed Up and an engaging panel discussion.
The discussion reinforced the value of learning the stories of history, especially those of family and local history, as they are often the most interesting and closely connected links to the greater events in history. Panelist Dr. Michael Thompson, a professor of history at Pfeiffer University and the director of its honors program, noted, “Learning these stories helps you build empathy and a greater understanding of yourself and of others, bridging social and cultural divides”.
Dr. Sequoya Mungo, who moderated the discussion, directs the TQP program at Pfeiffer. She stressed the value of oral histories. “Everyone has a story to tell,” she said. “Oral histories are a valuable way to learn more about people, perspective, and history.
Ken Keuffel, who authored this article, has served as Pfeiffer’s Assistant Director of Communications since December 2019. He welcomes story ideas from Pfeiffer’s faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends. The form for submitting story ideas is at www.pfeiffer.edu/newsform