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

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

Under review


When and how does protest matter? Although scholarship on the consequences of social movements has grown dramatically, our understanding of protest influence is limited. Most recent studies examine whether strong movement organization increases the chance of success, and few studies identify positive effects for disruptive protest. We examine the 1960 lunch counter sit-ins by black college students using an original dataset of 334 cities in the US South. We assess the influence of protest while considering the factors that generate protest itself. Specifically, we examine whether local movement infrastructure, supportive political environments, and favorable economic conditions account for the apparent influence of protest. Our analyses show 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. These analyses also demonstrate that desegregation was more likely where movement opposition was weak, political conditions were favorable, and the economic power of the movement's constituency was strongest.

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Michael Biggs, Department of Sociology, University of Oxford