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Like Wildfire

The Rhetoric of the Civil Rights Sit-Ins

edited by Sean Patrick O'Rourke and Lesli K. Pace



Published: Jun 2 2020


Published: Jun 2 2020

OA Ebook
Published: Jun 2 2020


The inclusion of this book in the Open Carolina collection is made possible by the generous funding of

The sit-ins of the American civil rights movement were extraordinary acts of dissent in an age marked by protest. By sitting in at "whites only" lunch counters, libraries, beaches, swimming pools, skating rinks, and churches, young African Americans and their allies put their lives on the line, fully aware that their actions would almost inevitably incite hateful, violent responses from entrenched and increasingly desperate white segregationists. And yet they did so in great numbers: most estimates suggest that in 1960 alone more than seventy thousand young people participated in sit-ins across the American South and more than three thousand were arrested. The simplicity and purity of the act of sitting in, coupled with the dignity and grace exhibited by participants, lent to the sit-in movement's sanctity and peaceful power.

In Like Wildfire, editors Sean Patrick O'Rourke and Lesli K. Pace seek to clarify and analyze the power of civil rights sit-ins as rhetorical acts—persuasive campaigns designed to alter perceptions of apartheid social structures and to change the attitudes, laws, and policies that supported those structures. These cohesive essays from leading scholars offer a new appraisal of the origins, growth, and legacy of the sit-ins, which has gone largely ignored in scholarly literature. The authors examine different forms of sitting-in and the evolution of the rhetorical dynamics of sit-in protests, detailing the organizational strategies they employed and connecting them to later protests. By focusing on the persuasive power of demanding space, the contributors articulate the ways in which the protestors' battle for basic civil rights shaped social practices, laws, and the national dialogue. O'Rourke and Pace maintain that the legacies of the civil rights sit-ins have been many, complicated, and at times undervalued.

Sean Patrick O'Rourke is a professor of rhetoric and American studies and director of the Center for Speaking and Listening at Sewanee: The University of the South.

Lesli K. Pace is chair and associate professor of communication studies and modern languages at Southeast Missouri State University.

"O'Rourke and Pace have assembled an impressive set of scholars tackling historical cases studies of it-Ins as protest. The much-needed book offers a fresh look at famous but also lesser known cases, all argued as critical rhetorical episodes for their persuasive objective. This volume greatly enhances the study of civil rights and social justice."—Amos Kiewe, Syracuse University

"O'Rourke, Pace, and their ambitious contributors offer diverse critical perspectives for understanding sit-ins as fundamentally rhetorical events in the civil rights movement. This incisive volume illuminates the breadth and depth of sitting in as embodied rhetorical activism toward liberation from injustice and white supremacy."—Leland G. Spencer, Miami University

"An excellent collection of rhetorical studies of the sit-ins of the civil rights movement that captures the demonstrations in their fullest complexities. The exploration of a variety of texts—from bodies to photographs to newspapers—performs the important work of reshaping our memories in profound ways and inviting us to reassess their many contemporary legacies."—Patricia Davis, Northeastern University

"This distinctive collection brilliantly documents, analyzes, and memorializes the multifaceted sit-in tradition within the American Black Freedom Movement. In so doing, Like Wildfire enriches both popular and scholarly understanding of rhetorical history, social protest, and nonviolent direct action—an invigorating read with the potential to inspire contemporary students, researchers, and activists, alike."—Maegan Parker Brooks, author of Fannie Lou Hamer: America's Freedom Fighting Woman

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