Small Acts of Great Courage

Posted on June 9, 2020


Life in the Boomer Lane lives in a neighborhood of mostly (overwhelmingly) white, professional people, people whose livlihoods ultimately depend on the behemoth we affectionately call the federal government. They are government workers, consultants, facilitators, researchers, attorneys, statisticians, politicians. They work for the Federal Reserve, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and a host of trade associations and lobby groups. They are mostly well-travelled, and are culturally and socially aware. A huge number are Democrats.

Arlington, Vrginia has always been a bedroom community attached to DC. The schools are top-rated. The parks and recreational services are outstanding. The citizens are welcoming. Arlington has been home to any number of thoughtful, caring people.

LBL’s neighborhood borders Lee Highway, Arlington’s longest commercial span. Several blocks from where LBL’s, there sits a hair salon. Back in 1960, it was a Drug Fair. It looked like a CVS, with the addition of a lunch counter, that served casual food, in addition to ice cream, milk shakes, and pie.

On June 9 of that year, six black college students walked into the store and approached the whites-only lunch counter. They were young, well-dressed, polite, non-threatening. They sat down. They were not served, but they were noticed, They drew taunts, jeers, and the attention of George Lincoln Rockwell, the head of the American Nazi Party, whose headquarters were conviently located less than a mile away.

The students’ response was to continue to sit. They passed the time reading bibles and philospohy books. They remained silent. The taunts and jeers became threats, some quite graphic. The students continued to sit. Some of the displeased people invaded their physical space, continuing to threaten them verbally. The hours passed. The students continued to sit.

The next day, the students were back. And on that second day, other students sat down at other local counters, armed with books and with silence and with unflappable dignity. The taunts and jeers came after, but now there was an awareness among the taunters that these students represented something much more powerful than the eye could see, something that had no need to respond to insult. Within two weeks, lunch counters across Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax changed their policies and desegregated.

Desegragation, the inhumane separation of those of color, had been defeated by people who marched, who rallied, who rode buses, who sat at counters and who had the temerity to go where they weren’t wanted. Some paid the price with their lives and their livlihoods. Today, we can’t imagine a world with seperate schools and water fountains and motels and bathrooms.

Segregation, as appalling as it was, was only one way that our society has marginalized African Americans. The list goes on and on. We are in the midst now of addressing a system in which police can save our lives or take our lives, solely on the basis of skin color. She has joined those who marched and continue to march on our streets, demanding that people be affored simple human dignity by the police.

The lunch counter in LBL’s neighborhood is gone. There remains only a plaque commerating that sit in so long ago. But LBL is very aware that those students, those remarkably brave souls, are still sitting there, armed only with their determination and their dignity. They watch us now to see what we do. They nod their heads. They give us courage. They know that even small acts can inspire those who take on large acts, and all acts together can lead to seismic shifts.