The Sit-Ins: Protest and Legal Change in the Civil Rights Era
Ended July 31

The Sit-Ins tells the story of the student lunch counter protests of 1960 and the national debate they sparked over the meaning of the constitutional right of all Americans to equal protection of the laws. Christopher Schmidt describes how behind the now-iconic scenes of African American college students sitting in quiet defiance at "whites only" lunch counters lies a series of underappreciated legal dilemmas—about the meaning of the Constitution, the capacity of legal institutions to remedy different forms of injustice, and the relationship between legal reform and social change. The students' actions initiated a national conversation over whether the Constitution's equal protection clause extended to the activities of private businesses that served the general public. The courts, the traditional focal point for accounts of constitutional disputes, played an important but ultimately secondary role in this story. The great victory of the sit-in movement came not in the Supreme Court, but in Congress, with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, landmark legislation that recognized the right African American students had claimed for themselves four years earlier. The Sit-Ins invites a broader understanding of how Americans contest and construct the meaning of their Constitution.

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