Remembering Silence: Bennett College Women and the 1960 Greensboro Student Sit-Ins
Abstract: The consensus memory of the 1960 Greensboro student sit-ins suggests that four men were solely responsible for the demonstration. Contrary to that memory is the story of women at Bennett College who began planning the sit-ins in the fall of 1959. This essay uses rhetorics of silence to explore questions about feminist historiography and public memory studies raised by this controversy. In 1960, rather than speaking publicly about their role, Bennett women protected the credibility of the demonstration by taking a position of silence. As time passed, public memories of the event were defined by the four men, and the women’s stories were further suppressed through the processes of commemoration. Studying silence in this context reveals how rhetorical values associated with silence can change over time. Although the Bennett women’s silence began as a temporary tactical choice, their voices were nearly permanently silenced through the processes of commemoration.