The Sit In

In a packed auditorium full of fifth-graders from each Binghamton City School District elementary school, hundreds of students got to hear a book they all read earlier in the year come to life, straight from the mouths of the people who wrote it.

Nationally-acclaimed writers Andrea and Brian Pinkney visited Binghamton High School’s Helen Foley Theatre on February 23 to provide wide-reaching insight on many of the books the duo have written and illustrated over the years, but in particular, their 2010 release The Sit-In.

The book tells the story of the Woolworth’s sit-in of 1960 in Greensboro, North Carolina. Four black college students had walked into an all-white restaurant and stayed at the dining counter until closing, back when segregation was common practice in the United States. As the days progressed, more and more college students joined them at Woolworth’s. In a matter of days, more than 1,000 people joined the sit-in. In the weeks and months that followed, similar protests spread to other cities in North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi.

“The overall message is that no matter who you are, how old you are, you can make a difference in the world, even if it is a small act,” Andrea Pinkney explains. “In the case of the students of 1960, they went in, and they sat down. It was a quiet act, but it has a big, loud impact.”

The book was written by Andrea and illustrated by Brian. During the presentation, both Andrea and Brian gave insight on their processes for writing and creating visual art, which led to a deeper understanding of the core concepts of the book. For instance, listing the steps taken to introduce integration as a recipe, and the counter the students sat at being a character itself.

“It’s abstract, it's a little surreal, but it’s something that’s visual that you see in the book but you don’t read,” Brian Pinkney notes about the counter.

The Sit-In is just one of the Pinkneys’ books that Binghamton students have read throughout the year as part of ELA and social studies curriculum. Earlier in the year, fifth graders in all elementary schools completed a unit where they read about social issues in the world, wrote about them, and what should be changed to solve those problems. They also completed a social justice unit (The Sit-In was used as part of that unit) that emphasized students using their voice to help contribute to change in the world. The students are also using what they have learned with The Sit-In to apply some of its themes to the Rod Serling unit they are currently in, making connections with the themes of social justice that Serling inserted in many of his works.

The Pinkneys used The Sit-In not only to educate on a crucial event in the Civil Rights Movement, but also to show an example of the effectiveness of protest, bravery, and courage those who took part showed. Binghamton students have been learning about this bravery and courage throughout the year in ELA and social studies which is inspiring them to be learners and thinkers as they view the world around them.

“A student – every day they come to school, they have to think outside the box. They’re being presented with something they’ve never learned before,” Andrea Pinkney adds. “They all have to digest it somehow, and they all have a unique way of taking in information and learning.”