Civil Rights #PLA2020

I visited the somber and stunning Civil Rights space at Nashville PL, a tribute to the lunch counter sit-ins of 1960. 60 years ago this month, lunch counter sit-ins began in Greensboro, NC, here in Nashville, TN, and in other cities which still practiced legally sanctioned, overt segregation. The participants were mostly Black university students. Photos, arrest warrants and newspaper clippings line the walls, and a series of videos plays in a corner of the room. The central lunch counter installation has the nonviolent principles of conduct etched into the glass panels including “Do not strike back or curse if abused.“

After visiting the room, my colleague/friend and I walked over to the nearby restored Woolworths restaurant for lunch. We gratefully accepted a fact sheet about the site and its history in the sit-ins as we were seated at a table, a white-presenting woman and Asian-presenting woman. As we looked around at the mostly white clientele and mostly Black staff, my colleague/friend asked me, “Does this feel weird?” It did.

That question held a myriad of questions inside of it, some of which we discussed, some I thought about later, and some I haven’t  figured out how to ask yet. Did it feel wrong to sit and indulge in leisurely food and conversation with mostly white people and get served by Black people? Familiar?…as in…I inhabit mostly white spaces all the time and am used to being served and cleaned up after by Black and Brown people? How am I working to change that reality? Who owns the Woolworths and are profits being shared with the Black community? How am I spending my $$, energy, and resources to uplift marginalized communities? How much white- and self-centering am I indulging in through writing and publishing this post? Etc.

I am so grateful to PLA for bringing Bryan Stevenson to PLA2014. He pushed me in a direction to start asking important questions… questions about my privilege and biases, the history and narratives I had accepted without question, representation in books and materials for children, representation in media that surrounds all of us, the systems at work in my library, the library profession, our country and the world. He pushed me to read and attend workshops and trainings, some on my own and some supported by the amazing Skokie Public Library. Along with many of you, I began to wake up to the world of equity, diversity and inclusion. I am constantly learning how much I don’t know, that this work is a lifelong journey with u-turns, side-trips and speed bumps, and how far I have to go.

So many more important questions, not so many great answers.



  1. Leslie Phillips

    Hi Shelley,

    I applaud you for this blog content and your honesty and willingness to understand and know more AND wanting to help make a change. Unfortunately so many people are uneducated and uninformed about the history of Black people in this country. After all, Black History is American History. As an African-American woman whose families are from the South and that lived through this “very hard and hateful” period , it is good to hear a white woman expressing her feelings and thoughts on what you experienced at the site. I wish MORE non-Black/Brown people were like you. I need to take a trip to Nashville , TN to see this exhibit. Have you been to the African American Museum in Washington, DC? If not, I urge to and you will be overwhelmed and blown away. Visiting this amazing museum you will need at least 2-3 days to see and absorb all the information.

    1. Shelley Sutherland Post author

      Thanks, Leslie. I have not been to the African American Museum in Washington, DC, but it is definitely on my list. I did have the opportunity to travel with 100 people from my community, Evanston, IL, on an “Uncomfortable Journey” weekend bus trip to the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice and Legacy Museum in Montgomery, AL. We also walked the bridge in Selma on the way home. It was quite an experience.

  2. Leslie Phillips

    Keep traveling ,learning and experiencing, “my sista!”

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