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January 17, 2011

Persuasion's Jimmy Hayes and MLK linked by lunch counter sit-in

New York Post:

When the Persuasions - the a cappella group born on the pavement and in the subway stations of Brooklyn in 1962 — were asked to perform at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s annual Martin Luther King birthday tribute tomorrow, there wasn’t a second of hesitation. “These celebrations carry a special meaning with me,” says founding member Jimmy Hayes.

Hayes says he’d been involved in “the movement” in his small hometown of Hopewell, Va., trying to integrate the lunch counter at the local drugstore. He could get a little Dixie cup of Cherry Coke there, but couldn’t drink it inside the store.

“They wouldn’t let blacks sit at the lunch counter,” Hayes says. “Not at all.” He and three others from Hopewell were invited to Atlanta to participate in the student sit-in project there. It was October 1960, and Martin Luther King was set to participate in the protests, too. Hayes was just 16.

Several spots in Atlanta were picketed, all had lunch counters. Hayes was at the Kress drugstore. King was at the larger Rich’s department store. Both were among the many arrested that day, Oct. 19, 1960.

“It was on,” Hayes says, describing the feeling when he and his fellow students sat down at the lunch counter, 15 or 20 strong.

“You’re gonna leave or you’re gonna be arrested,” they were told.

“That ain’t what we asked for. We asked for bacon and eggs,” they responded.

“We don’t serve . . . ,” Hayes grows quiet, pauses. “You know — they used the N-word.”

To get inside, Hayes and the others had gone through a gauntlet of hate. “You had people on the side of the street with dogs, siccing dogs on us and throwing stuff and calling names and so forth.”

Inside were agitators who did everything the students had trained for, and more.

“It was scary, it really was,” Hayes remembers, “because you couldn’t defend yourself. That was the scary part.” Even the police, Hayes says, treated them “terrible, terrible.”

In jail, Hayes says, “we were crammed in a cell like cattle, there were so many of us.” Most were let out on bail several hours later, but Dr. King was held when a local county judge ruled he’d violated his probation from a traffic infraction. He was sent to the state penitentiary and held there until the end of the month.

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Posted by acapnews at January 17, 2011 11:05 PM

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