In his powerful memoir You Can't Be Neutral On A Moving Train, Howard Zinn tells the story of how, when he was teaching at Spelman College, the historically African-American women's college in Atlanta, he participated in an action to allow blacks access to the public libraries in Atlanta. Each day, a couple of polite, well dressed, conservative-looking students from Spelman and its brother school, Morehouse, would walk into the library and ask to take out a book.
They would ask for John Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, Tom Paine's Common Sense, the Declaration of Independence, or the United States Constitution.
Each day, they were turned away: No Coloreds.
They made it clear to the powers that controlled Atlanta that they would not be giving up. As they were discussing what steps to take next, a phone call came: they had won the battle.
Zinn writes: "I have told about the modest campaign to desegregate Atlanta's libraries because the history of social movements often confines itself to the large events, the pivotal moments. Typically, surveys of the history of the civil rights movement deal with the Supreme Court decision in the Brown case, the Montgomery bus boycott, the march on Washington, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the march from Selma to Montgomery, the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Missing from such histories are the countless small actions of unknown people that led up to those great moments. When we understand this, we can see that the tiniest acts of protest in which we engage may become the invisible roots of social change."