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Youth and the Revolution: How the Young Population Contributed to Many Historical Moments

Aug 29, 2021 09:00AM ● By Anand Subramanian
black and white photo of African American teenage girl holding books walking towards high school entrance while crowd of white people are shouting and jeering

Young people make up the majority of the world's population and are the demographic group most influenced by any country's socioeconomic and political changes. The notion of a new generation emerged as the cultural landscape throughout the world was thrown into disarray during the industrial revolution, with a gulf opening between adults and the youth. 

Most youth movements have historically been established over themes of citizenship, social discontinuity, and cultural expressivity. They took various forms, such as student rebellion, cultural innovation (literary, artistic, musical), and scientific, religious, ethnic, nationalistic, and political upheavals, as well as environmental, peace, war-resistant, and anti-war movements. They all created history by exposing decades of institutional segregation, racial supremacy, and tyranny and inspiring a country to action. This article will look at four revolutions led by Black teens that changed the course of history and paved the way for a more just and inclusive society.

The Birmingham Children's Crusade

Early in 1963, South Christian Leadership Activists (SCLC) and other civil rights groups created a plan to decommission Birmingham, a town famous for its discrimination in employment and public life. Separation continued throughout the city and only on "colored days" were Black people permitted to travel to numerous sites such as the fairs. The Civil Rights Movement was already part of their lives for many African American youngsters in Birmingham. They had seen the participation of their parents in mass meetings held in churches such as the Church of the Baptists on 16th Street. While many parents and leaders of civil rights are careful about the participation of young people in protests, it turns out that these children's bold actions contributed to a permanent shift of the movement in Birmingham. On May 2, 1963, tens of thousands of children left school and met for instruction in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. They went to the city center on a mission to talk about segregation with Mayor Albert Boutwell. As youngsters reached the town hall, they were policed and hundreds were sent to jail by paddy cars and school buses. Dr. King went to the prison to see the kids with the message, "You're going to have this day for children who were not born." In the morning, the march again began, with firehoses, clubs, and police dogs waiting for them and ordering them to stop the assault. The kids shouted as their clothes and flesh were torn from the pressure of the hoses The news media recorded the whole episode and wordspread around the country, showing the savagery and creating enormous support. Finally, the municipal authorities convened with the civil rights leaders and developed a strategy to halt the protests. City leaders decided to divide up public and commercial facilities on May 10th, 1963.

Figure 1 -.The Birmingham Children's Crusade  Source- Google

The June 16 Soweto Youth Uprising

The socio-political environment in South Africa was dramatically transformed by the June 16, 1976 uprising in Soweto which began and expanded across the country. The uprising launched by the students had a significant influence on the apartheid movement in South Africa. In 1953, the Bantu Education Act formalized the different and unequal educational system for Black people into law, which had long existed. The act aimed to maintain Black children in their supposed inferiority and make them suitable for low income, menial work in Black schools. In 1975, Black South African schoolchildren were told that they had to start learning their major courses, mathematics, and social studies, in a new language, Afrikaans — the language of the people who had created apartheid and made their lives miserable. They'd been learning in English and, at first, in both English and their tribe's original tongue. As high school students, they were now obliged to begin learning Afrikaans, the oppressors' language. Many pupils concluded that they could no longer tolerate the inequities of South Africa's educational system. On June 16, 1976, an estimated 20,000 students in Soweto, a Johannesburg neighborhood, abandoned their classrooms and marched in peaceful protest of their educational system. When the police turned up, they began shooting students who refused to disperse when told to. Nonetheless, students and parents continued to demonstrate for the following ten days. The official death toll increased to 176, with two Whites and 174 African Americans killed. According to reports, 5,980 individuals were detained for resistance-related activities. Within four months of the Soweto uprising, 160 African communities throughout the country had joined the struggle. Apartheid in South Africa was abolished in the early 1990s, following nearly two decades of struggle.

Figure 2 - The Soweto Students’ Uprising. Source- Google

Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-Ins

The Greensboro sit-in began in 1960, when young African American students staged a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, and refused to leave after being denied service. Ezell Blair Jr., David Richmond, Franklin McCain, and Joseph McNeil were the Greensboro Four, four young Black men who organized the first sit-in in Greensboro. All four were North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College students. Blair, Richmond, McCain, and McNeil had meticulously planned their demonstration and recruited the assistance to implement their plan of action of a local white businessman, Ralph Johns. Police came but, owing to lack of provocation, were unable to take action. By this time, they had already notified the local media to report the events on the TV. The Greensboro Four remained in position until the business was closed, followed by more students from area universities the next day. By 5 February, 300 students had joined the Woolworth Protest and immobilized the lunch counter and other nearby companies. Greensboro's heavy TV coverage prompted a sit-in movement that expanded rapidly to college cities across the southern and northern areas, as young Black and White people engaged in different kinds of nonviolent anti-splitting protest in libraries, beaches, hotels, and other facilities. At the end of July, during the summer holiday of many local university students, the Greensboro Woolworth discreetly integrated its lunch counter. The first to be served were four Black workers of Woolworth – Geneva Tisdale, Susie Morrison, Anetha Jones, and Charles Best.

Figure 3 - Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-Ins, 1960. Source - Google

Little Rock Nine

The United States Supreme Court decided in 1954 that segregated schools were unconstitutional. Brown v. Board of Education has become an iconic case for Americans because it signified the formal beginning of the end of segregation. It wasn't until September of 1957 that nine teenagers became icons of all that was to come for our country. The "Little Rock Nine," as the nine teenagers were dubbed, was to be the first African American pupils to enroll at Little Rock's Central High School. Arkansas’ governor Orval Faubus ordered the state's National Guard to bar the youngsters' admittance the night before their first day in Central High classrooms. Faubus stated that it was for the nine pupils' safety. A hostile mob, backed up by the National Guard, barred the Little Rock Nine from entering Central High School only 24 hours after a federal court ordered them to do so. A federal judge ordered the removal of the National Guard sixteen days later. The Little Rock Nine attempted to infiltrate the school on September 23. Despite being led into a side entrance by Little Rock police, another furious throng formed and attempted to surge into Central High. President Dwight Eisenhower federalized the National Guard and dispatched U.S. Army troops to the area in response to a request from Little Rock's mayor, Woodrow Mann. The Little Rock Nine began regular class attendance at Central High School, personally guarded by troops from the National Guard and the Army's 101st Airborne Division. Their suffering, however, was far from finished. Many of the White kids insulted, jeered, and intimidated the nine teenagers as they took tiny steps into deeper, more tumultuous waters. Ernest Green was the first African American to graduate from Central High School that spring, on May 27, 1958. The Little Rock Nine went on to achieve great things in their professional lives, with some working in higher education, mental health, and the criminal justice system.

Figure 4 - A visual of Little Rock Nine. Source- Google

 Anand Subramanian is a freelance photographer and content writer based out of Tamil Nadu, India. Having a background in Engineering always made him curious about life on the other side of the spectrum. He leapt forward towards the Photography life and never looked back. Specializing in Documentary and  Portrait photography gave him an up-close and personal view into the complexities of human beings and those experiences helped him branch out from visual to words. Today he is mentoring passionate photographers and writing about the different dimensions of the art world.

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