February 2013

The Greensboro Four


On February 1, 1960, four college freshmen stood up for civil rights by sitting down.

The friends from N.C. A&T University – Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, the late David Richmond and Ezell Blair Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan) – probably didn’t know they were making history when they took seats at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Greensboro.

A waitress immediately told them that blacks weren’t served there. Nevertheless, they placed their orders and sat calmly, aware of the potential danger they faced.

But to their surprise, nothing happened. When the store manager called the police, the Greensboro police chief determined there was nothing he could do if the men stayed quiet.

“The whole place became silent when we sat down, as if it were a still motion on a camera,” McCain recalled in 2012.

The store then closed early and the men left peacefully, thankful for not having been arrested or harassed. When they returned to campus, the young men invited several other campus groups to join their sit-in. The number of participants increased daily until, by Saturday, more than 1,000 people had packed into the store, seeking to be served.

Soon, black students from other colleges and even some white students who supported the cause joined the effort, many forming their own peaceful sit-ins at other stores. This movement quickly spread to other North Carolina towns and eventually to 54 cities in nine states, rapidly gaining national publicity.

On July 25, almost six months after the sit-in began, Woolworth’s finally started serving blacks at the lunch counter, and it wasn’t long until other restaurants followed suit.

Today, the Greensboro Four are revered for their courage in kick-starting a movement to end legal segregation in the South, living the example set by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And the lunch counter is a focal point of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, located in the historic 1929 F.W. Woolworth building.