Friday, November 14, 2008

Paul LePrad and Civil Rights

During the civil rights struggle in the 1960s in the United States, a white student at Manchester College, decided that he wanted to study a year at Fisk University, a black school of higher education. During the first weeks there, Paul LePrad, the Brethren student, was quiet, almost unnoticed. He went about his studies and stayed pretty much to himself.

In the South at that time black people were not served at lunch counters designated for whites. A handful of black students at Fisk went to a local drugstore lunch counter and sat there waiting to be served. They were so poor that if they had been served they might not have had money to pay for it. They were largely ignored.

One Saturday, as the handful of blacks sat at the counter, Paul showed up and went to the counter and sat with them. The whites in the drugstore were furious. They began to swear at LePrad and call him names. Paul said nothing. He simply sat there with his hands folded on the counter. This made them even more angry. One man held a burning cigarette against the back of LePrad's neck. Still he said nothing, made no response, only sat there.

Some of the people pulled Paul from his lunch counter stool and began to beat and kick him. A Newsweek magazine photographer was there and took a series of photographs. Those photographs went around the world.

The president of Fisk University told Earl Garver, the dean of Manchester College, that up until that time the sit-in efforts in the South had been largely unsuccessful. Tiny groups of students had gone without widespread support. But at that point things changed. The fact that a white student would voluntarily go and sit with them and take upon himself the hatred and violence meant for them suddenly aroused them. Suddenly black students began to turn out in large numbers. The sit-in movement caught on across the south.

Source: To Follow in Jesus' Steps, C. Wayne Zunkel