Protest Campaigns and Movement Success: Desegregating the U.S. South,1960-1961
Published: Aug 2014

When and how does protest matter? Although scholarship on the consequences of social movements has grown dramatically, our understanding of protest influence is limited. Mostrecent studies examine whether strong movement organization increases the chance ofsuccess, and few studies identify positive effects for disruptive protest. We examine the 1960lunch 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 generateprotest itself. Specifically, we examine whether local movement infrastructure, supportivepolitical environments, and favorable economic conditions account for the apparentinfluence of protest. Our analyses show that sit-in protest increased the likelihood ofdesegregation, and that protest in nearby cities also had a positive impact. This indirecteffect reveals the diffusion of success: sit-ins in a nearby city made desegregation there morelikely, which in turn facilitated desegregation in this city. These analyses also demonstratethat desegregation was more likely where movement opposition was weak, politicalconditions were favorable, and the economic power of the movement’s constituency was strongest.

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