Imagine how hard it must have been for four African American college students to walk into a segregated lunch counter on February 1, 1960, knowing they would face unthinkable harassment.
Imagine how hard it must have been to adhere to the nonviolent teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and to heed his words ― “We must meet hate with love.”― while angry patrons spat in their faces, poured scalding coffee on their heads, and flung pepper in the eyes, all in an effort to force them to leave.
While creating the book Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down, we did our best to put ourselves at that lunch counter. To experience the anxiety, the uncertainty, the anger, and the determination those students felt.
The lunch counter exists as a character in the book, taking on a life of its own, animated by the events of the day. We always ask viewers to pay close attention to the counter, which takes on many shapes and guises.
It is a landscape caving in on itself ― to represent the turbulence of the time.
It is a “freedom road” that extends as committed people join the sit-ins.
In one of the book’s final spreads ― which appears as a gate-fold page ― the lunch counter is rendered as a triptych that is also a rollercoaster. This topsy-turvy depiction represents the scary, uncertain, meandering path the sit-ins took, and how the freedom fighters must have felt “holding on for the ride,” not sure how it would end.
Also, we believe that lunch counter absorbed the collective energy of those nonviolent protesters, and that the counter, though inanimate, possessed sentient qualities ― eyes, breath, memory.
Another important symbol is the salt-and-pepper shakers on the counter. They are black and white, side by side, each quietly asserting their right to be there, but not hurting anyone.
The paintings for this book are rendered in watercolors and Luma Dyes, and are created with an instrument called a “DaVinci Maestro,” a paintbrush with a long bristle that expresses emotion, fluidity, strength, and a sense of hope.
Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down. Illustrated by Brian Pinkney. Little, Brown, 2010.