Publisher’s Point: The Lunch Counter

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

I am just back from a wonderful semi-annual conference sponsored by the global health food company with which I have been an affiliate for nearly two decades. It was held in Atlanta. I can not describe how marvelous it is to not be dealing with COVID in the public square, and let’s just say the hugs were abundant and welcomed. These conferences are always highly motivational, not so much because “motivational speakers” do their thing, but because hearing the true stories of people overcoming huge obstacles in their business and personal lives never fails to inspire me.

There was some free time on a Thursday, and so a friend and I decided to go on a tour of the Civil Rights Museum, which is located on the edge of Olympic Centennial Park. The park was built for the 1996 Olympic Games, and the museum was built in 2014.

I was only 7 years old when the “lunch counter sit-ins” began to happen all over the South, and I remember it well. I also knew that there was a goodly amount of training given to the non-violent protestors (including children) prior to any protest. The goal was always to keep one’s cool, no matter what kinds of things were said or done. This included hair pulling, spilling coffee or other drinks on the protestors, blowing cigarette smoke in faces, shoving, and the endless taunting and name-calling.

At the museum, after you get an idea of what was involved with the training, you get to have a two-minute opportunity to be immersed in a simulated sit-in experience to see how well you do. The goal is to stay completely calm with your hands flat on the counter for the full two minutes. I suppose I had an advantage, having been involved in non-violent protests as a teenager. I also had the advantage of having had to take S.E.R.E training in Iraq, which is a set of strategies designed to keep a hostage/captive in one piece, both physically and emotionally. S.E.R.E. stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape, and trust me when I tell you that I had to use all of it except the “escape” part because I had chosen to “experience the experience.”

It was the longest two minutes of my life. You put on headphones, which have the screaming in stereo, and the sensory flood of having the back of your lunch counter chair pushed against your back was unsettling, to say the least. By the grace of God, along with the training I received due to the fact that women were being abducted for ransom at a record rate in Iraq, I got through it. I kept my hands on the counter and I didn’t flinch. I was shaken, for sure, but I didn’t flinch. When I think of the fact that these folks endured this for hours on end, and never let understandable anger get the best of them, I am humbled. It was only a little over 60 years ago, and while it might not be politically correct to say so, I believe we have come a long way.