Protest Campaigns and Movement Success: Desegregating the South, 1960-61

(with Kenneth T. Andrews, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Under review

Scholarship on the consequences of social movements has grown dramatically in recent years.  We examine a classic case in the study of social movements – the 1960 lunch counter sit-ins by black college students. Using a dataset of 334 cities in the South, we analyze the occurrence of desegregation following the sit-ins. The effect of protest is tested, controlling for many characteristics that predict the occurrence of protest. We also test the effect of movement infrastructure, political mediation/opportunity, and economic opportunity. We find that sit-in protest increased the likelihood of desegregation, and that protest in nearby cities also had a positive impact. This indirect effect reveals the diffusion of success: sit-ins in a nearby city made desegregation there more likely, which in turn facilitated desegregation in this city. Movement infrastructure and political opportunity also help to explain desegregation, but economic opportunity had no discernible effect.


Michael Biggs, Department of Sociology, University of Oxford