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Frank James

For Frank James and many other African Americans across the South, the sit-ins in Greensboro that erupted on February 1, 1960 ignited a fire of resistance. That year, twenty-one-year-old James was a student at Philander Smith, a historically Black college in Little Rock, Arkansas. Just over a month after the beginning of the Greensboro Sit-Ins, Smith and fifty other Philander Smith students began Little Rock’s first sit-in protests, “We felt that as Americans we were deprived of privileges shared by other American citizens.”

At 11 a.m., James and the other students marched to the local F. W. Woolworth’s between Fourth and Main Streets, sat the segregated lunch counter, and asked to be served. As expected, they were soon met by Little Rock chief of police Eugene G. Smith. The assistant store manager had closed the lunch counter, and most of the Philander students had left. James, Charles Parker, Vernon Mott, Eldridge Davis, and Chester Briggs, however, had remained.

James and his fellow Philanderanians were immediately arrested but made bail with the help of the Little Rock NAACP. Just seven days later, when they appeared for trial, the courtroom was packed with fellow students. In the end, they were found guilty and James and the others were fined $250 and sentenced to thirty days in jail. The following month when their attorneys appealed, both sentences were doubled. It prompted those involved to expand their sit-in efforts, not just at the Woolworth’s but at all local facilities operating under Jim Crow.

As a leader of Philander Smith’s student movement, James wrote, “We felt it our moral obligation as American citizens who so happen to be born Negroes. And by this fact of which we have had no control, we are discriminated. We felt that as Americans we were deprived of privileges shared by other American citizens.” James later attended SNCC’s August 1960 meeting in Atlanta, the first representative from Arkansas, and then on August 14th, he picketed the U.S. Capitol with other SNCC members insisting that Congress enact civil rights legislation.

Years later, Dr. James returned to his alma mater, to teach math at the very school where his activism began. In 2011, he was honored among other student activists with a marker on the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail. He recalled, “I was a full time student at Philander Smith College at the time and I knew this was the right thing to do.”

Sources

Bill Hansen, “Arkansas Daze,” Arsnick: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Arkansas, edited by Jennifer Jensen Wallach and John A. Kirk (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 2011).

John A. Kirk, Beyond Little Rock: The Origins and Legacies of the Central High Crisis (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2007).

John A. Kirk, “The Origins of SNCC in Arkansas: Little Rock, Lupper, and the Law,” Arsnick: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Arkansas, edited by Jennifer Jensen Wallach and John A. Kirk (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 2011).

Brent Riffel, “In the Storm: William Hansen and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Arkansas, 1962-1967,” Arsnick: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Arkansas, edited by Jennifer Jensen Wallach and John A. Kirk (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 2011).


“State Reports,” The Student Voice, August 1960, WHS


“Little Rock Sit-Ins: First in Two Years,” The Student Voice, December 1962, WHS


SNCC Summer Program, 1965, Alice Kaplow Papers, WHS