Join the Meeting Place for Moms!
Talk to other moms, share advice, and have fun!

(minimum 6 characters)

Black History Month: 2/21/2017 Albert Lassiter

Posted by on Feb. 21, 2017 at 5:59 PM
  • 19 Replies
4 moms liked this

Mobile Photo

Mobile Photo

Albert Lassiter clearly remembers the day that he and eight other students from Tougaloo College stepped out of two parked cars, walked into the “whites only” Jackson Municipal Library and staged the first sit-in — or read-in — of a public institution in Mississippi.


“The goal was to spring it on the city of Jackson,” says Lassiter, 74, over breakfast at a hotel in the Five Points South district of Birmingham, Ala. Their mission on March 27, 1961, in one of the country’s most divisively segregated states, was so important that the date had to be moved up, to make sure it was kept a secret. And today, nearly 55 years later, it’s still something of a secret, as hardly anyone except for those who participated knows anything about it.


Lassiter grew up in Vicksburg, Miss., 43 miles west of Jackson, on a stretch of the Mississippi River that borders Louisiana. His experiences growing up in the deep South were no different than those of other black children. He remembers “the talk” all children of color received, especially the boys, to avoid engaging whites in any way, shape or form. He remembers his mother giving him money for the store, and telling him not to count it. “Because some of the times you were not going to get the correct change (back),” he says. “And at 7 and 8, we could count. We’d know (if we’d gotten cheated).” And if you followed your instinct to say something, it could put your life in danger. “Boy, are you calling me a liar!” Lassiter says, imagining the reaction he might have met had he tried to correct a white clerk. “It would escalate from there.”


For his own safety and that of his family, he was told to say sir and ma’amwhenever he addressed whites, he says, “because otherwise you’d be an uppity nigger. And that would reflect back on your parents.” He was taught to step off the sidewalk and into the street to clear the way for an approaching white person. “There’s a chance you might brush into them.”


He might bump into a white person every now and then, he says with a chuckle, but nothing that might lead to any real danger, nothing until that morning in March. The library demonstration was conceived by civil-rights leader Medgar Evers, the head of the NAACP in Jackson. After the success of sit-ins across the South, beginning inGreensboro, N.C., and, later, in Nashville, Tenn., Evers was interested in the use of civil disobedience to precipitate change in Mississippi.


Lassiter’s father, the town preacher, was a charter member of the local NAACP chapter, and Evers was a regular visitor to their home. When Lassiter enrolled at Tougaloo, a private, historically black college just outside Jackson, in the fall of 1960, he joined the nascent NAACP Youth Council. Even though he was just a freshman, Lassiter — who had been president of his high-school class and student council — was named the group’s first president.

“Medgar (Evers) said, ‘If you get attacked, just take it.’ I thought I might get hurt, possibly killed.”

Evers counseled the student group at the Woodworth Chapel on campus. He chose the library as the place to make a stand because the denial of access to books was a direct impediment to advancement. “Here you have college students trying to get an education,” Lassiter says. “Who can argue with going to the library?” Evers thought of everything, even making sure that the books the students would request were not available at the “colored” library.


Only those students who were committed to nonviolence could take part. “Medgar said, ‘If you get attacked, just take it,’ ” recalls Lassiter, who was 19 at the time. “I wouldn’t say I was fearless, but I didn’t mind taking on the challenge. I thought I might get hurt, possibly killed, but if you were concentrating on your personal safety, you probably wouldn’t have gone.”


Outside the library the nine participants — five men and four women — reviewed their training, what to do if they were hit: Don’t say anything. Don’t fight back. Just ball up. When the library opened at 9 a.m., they entered and split up, to avoid congregating in a single area. Several students walked through the stacks; others picked up a book, went to a table and sat down to read. The librarian looked on in utter astonishment as the “coloreds” quietly registered their presence.


Lassiter walked over to the card catalog, which gave him a clear view of the front door, and he had his reasons for doing so. “I had seen what a billy club could do to a guy’s head,” he says, and being the most visible, at 6-foot-6, he expected to be a target. “So I positioned myself so I could see the blows coming. I didn’t want to get a blind shot.”


Clarion-Ledger

Members of the Tougaloo Nine are taken into custody after protesting the Jackson Public Library in 1964.

He was right about one thing: The first cops to arrive beelined straight to him. “Boy, what you doing in here?” one officer asked him. Lassiter addressed him as “Sir,” and said he was there to get some books.


“Your library is down there on Mill Street,” the officer replied. Lassiter said he understood, but explained that the Carver Library didn’t have the books he needed. “It doesn’t matter,” the officer responded. “You have to go down there.”


The paddy wagons were already on the scene when the cops marched the nine students out of the library. But as they emerged from the building, a photographer captured the scene. Evers had alerted the media, and the coverage proved critical. “I think the national publicity is what saved us,” Lassiter says. “It was very likely we would have been whooped up on in jail.” They were dubbed the Tougaloo Nine.


The men found themselves in a holding tank with drunks and thugs; a day later, the guards took them outside the cell, where they spent the rest of their time on the concrete floor of a walkway, with no bed on which to rest. “I guess they didn’t want to make it too comfortable for these rabble-rousers,” Lassiter says. Though Lassiter can’t recall how long they remained locked up, one report stated they were in jail for about 36 hours, before local clergy bailed them out.


Blacks in town worried there would be reprisals for the library demonstration. The Vicksburg newspaper identified Lassiter among the group, printing his name as well as his father’s. If that didn’t make it easy enough for members of the Ku Klux Klan to track them down, they tacked on the family’s address.


“We were not hailed as heroes,” Lassiter says, explaining that the nine students had to keep a low profile after the protest as the fear of violence, loss of employment and other forms of retribution gripped Jackson’s black community. “I won’t say we went underground, but we went quietly back to our studies,” he says. “Who are (our) parents working for? They’re not self-employed.”


Even though Lassiter and others who were just entering their 20s could understand the feelings that paralyzed their parents’ generation, they saw things differently. “There were those that were saying, ‘Look, we need to stand up. We need to break this,’ ” he says. “I remember my dad saying, ‘Son, we didn’t know y’all were going to do this, but we’re going to stand behind you.’ And for me, that was very reassuring.”


Lassiter graduated from Tougaloo with a degree in chemistry and went into the U.S. Air Force. He served 32 years, including duty in Vietnam, and retired with the rank of colonel. Although he bravely ventured into dangerous territory overseas, he felt he’d already done so on American soil. “We put ourselves in harm’s way, to say the least,” he says. “(Taking a stand) was very traumatic in many ways. You’re not just breaking new ground, you’re troubling waters. You’re making a start that continued on.”


by on Feb. 21, 2017 at 5:59 PM
Add your quick reply below:
You must be a member to reply to this post.
Replies (1-10):
MissAndree
by Ronita on Feb. 21, 2017 at 6:30 PM
2 moms liked this

Thank you for highlighting great American heroes!

SuG4
by Firestarter on Feb. 21, 2017 at 6:46 PM
2 moms liked this
What courage!! And for those women in this group who mock protests, and protesters,.... well, sometimes it starts with a few, until it becomes many, and until the nation can't ignore it! THIS is what change looks like!
Ms.KitKat
by on Feb. 21, 2017 at 7:08 PM
1 mom liked this

That was amazing. Thank you for sharing, op!

couture-mommy
by 8.21.1831 on Feb. 21, 2017 at 7:10 PM
1 mom liked this
You're welcome my love

Quoting Ms.KitKat:

That was amazing. Thank you for sharing, op!

free1
by ~FreeSpirit~ on Feb. 21, 2017 at 8:15 PM
1 mom liked this

There were those that were saying, ‘Look, we need to stand up. We need to break this,’ ” he says. “I remember my dad saying, ‘Son, we didn’t know y’all were going to do this, but we’re going to stand behind you.’ And for me, that was very reassuring.”

Amazing courage!

numbr1wmn
by Lina on Feb. 21, 2017 at 8:25 PM

These were very brave and respectable  people and I am glad they did what they did to pave the way for today.  These were heros. 

couture-mommy
by 8.21.1831 on Feb. 21, 2017 at 8:27 PM
3 moms liked this
And you still think that everything is better and that the black people of today dont have things to overcome.

Mind you, he wasn't a slave either.

Quoting numbr1wmn:

These were very brave and respectable  people and I am glad they did what they did to pave the way for today.  These were heros. 

Carpy
by Emerald Member on Feb. 21, 2017 at 8:36 PM
1 mom liked this
Great story. Hard to even fathom that things were like this.
couture-mommy
by 8.21.1831 on Feb. 21, 2017 at 8:37 PM
1 mom liked this
Still are.

Quoting Carpy: Great story. Hard to even fathom that things were like this.
Lady_Facetious
by Gold Member on Feb. 21, 2017 at 8:47 PM
Thank you for sharing.
Add your quick reply below:
You must be a member to reply to this post.
Join the Meeting Place for Moms!
Talk to other moms, share advice, and have fun!

(minimum 6 characters)