The Greensboro Four How four men defined a pivotal moment in the American Civil Rights Movement.
On February 1, 1960, four men would take a stand and question a powerful force that determined that blacks and whites needed to be segregated. At this time in history, there were unwritten rules in North Carolina that forced people of color to be inferior to whites. Black and white citizens could not be integrated into some areas of society, such as using drinking fountains, eating in restaurants, seating on a bus, or attending events at theatre or sport stadiums. (Schlosser) It had been almost 100 years since black slaves were set free, but they were not free like white Americans. They were not free to choose their seat or where they would eat lunch. Something needed to be done, and four black college students from A&T State University in Greensboro decided they would take a stand. Through civil disobedience, they would make the town of Greensboro wake up to what the black race endured every day. Parker writes in the Greensboro Sit-in Chronicle that the Greensboro Four targeted the Woolworth's store because of its double standard. Blacks were allowed to make purchases at the register, but not sit at the counter. Blacks washed dishes and cleaned up in the back while whites served the customers. (Parker)
Monday, February 1, 1960 Ezell Blair, Jr., David Richmond, Franklin McCain, and Joseph McNeil strolled into the Woolworth's store at the corner of Elm and Sycamore streets in Greensboro, North Carolina. They sat down at the lunch counter and ordered coffee. They were denied service! This Woolworth's store was predominantly known for serving only white people at the lunch counter and refused to serve these four black college students. The store closed at 5:30 p.m. and the men had still not been served. (Schlosser) Photo courtesy of Greensboro News and Record
A group of 20 African American students sat down at the same Woolworth's’s lunch counter requesting to be served.
They stated that, if they were not served, more students would show up tomorrow, and the next day the number would be doubled.
The students wrote to the owner of Woolworth's and asked him to reconsider the company’s stand on discrimination. (Schlosser)
Tuesday, February 2, 1960 Woolworth's’s in Greensboro Photo by Harvey Wang
EXTRA EXTRA – Media Frenzy
Spokesmen Ezell Blair, Jr. and Franklin McCain stated: “ the group is seeking luncheon counter service and will continue its push ‘several days, several weeks ... until something is done.” Ezell Blair Photo courtesy of Cerese Franklin McCain Photo courtesy of Schlosser
On Wednesday, February 3, 1960, the sit-ins continued, however this time there were many more students involved. Sixty-three of the sixty-six seats at the lunch counter were filled with African American students. When those students needed to leave, other students were waiting to take their places. (Schlosser) All were denied service! The Sit-In Chronicle stated that a number of white individuals taunted the black students, including some members of the Ku Klux Klan. The Woolworth's store made a statement that it would continue to “abide by local custom.” (Parker) There was no law stating that a particular race could not be served. However, there was no law which could mandate a business owner to serve a customer that he did not choose to serve. (Schlosser) The two groups were at an impasse and pride was on the line. Sit-ins Continued
Saturday, February 6, 1960 Early Saturday morning, over 1,400 A&T students met and decided to continue the protests. They then proceeded to fill up the Woolworth's, and by noon, over 1,000 students filled the store. Not long after noon, a bomb threat was called in, stating that a bomb would go off in the Woolworth's store at 1:30 p.m. Woolworth'ss and Kress (another local store) closed their lunch counters completely to avoid further demonstrations. Photo courtesy of Warr. In light of this, the students moved to the nearby Kress store. Consequently, the Kress and Woolworth's stores announced that their counters would be temporarily closed for public safety. (Schlosser)
Later that Day . . . By that time, the protest had already spread to Winston-Salem. Soon the sit-in demonstrations would spread to Charlotte, Durham, and Fayetteville. The luncheon counters began to close in sync with the demonstrations. (Schlosser) It wouldn’t be long before students from across the country would be taking a stand too, all of which was inspired by the Greensboro Four. “By the close of the month, the Sit-In Movement had spread to 30 cities in 8 states.” (Parker) Leaders of A&T State University worked with officials from four other colleges. They were able to convince the students at a mass meeting to hold off on the protest for two weeks so that an agreement could be reached.
Greensboro Mayor George H. Roach, while speaking to the public on this topic, mentioned that Greensboro had done a fine job reconciling past disagreements regarding segregation. He highlighted the city's bus system, libraries, city parks, airport, coliseum-auditorium and some schools. He also mentioned some of the public facilities that still met with a difference of opinion, like the pools and golf courses. He continued to state that Greensboro can come to an agreement if it uses its resources properly. (Schlosser) The Greensboro Daily News had this to say in response: “We agree. But let us emphasize that no real solution can be found if it results in open and flaunted triumph for one group or another. The matter must be settled quickly on an individual basis with both sides recognizing that further group demonstrations will hurt more than help.” (Schlosser) Can They Come to an Agreement?
Why Did They Do It? Franklin McCain talks about why they did it.
Frustration over nothing
Tired of all the talk and
Lull of protest against
Who Were These Men? Franklin McCain Franklin McCain was raised in Washington, D.C., and was working toward a chemistry and biology degree from North Carolina A&T State University. His roommate was David Richmond, and his buddies Ezell Blair Jr. and Joseph McNeil were just down the hall. (Warr) Photo courtesy of Schlosser
Ezell Blair, Jr. Ezell was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, and was working toward a degree in sociology from North Carolina A&T State University. He was president of his junior class, president of the student government association, president of the campus NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), and a leader in the Greensboro Congress for Racial Equality. (Warr) Photo courtesy of Cerese
Joseph McNeil Joseph McNeil was born and raised in Wilmington, North Carolina, and later moved to New York after graduating from high school. He attended North Carolina A&T State University on a full scholarship and was working toward a degree in engineering physics. When traveling home for Christmas prior to the sit-ins, McNeil was refused service at the bus terminal. This frustration led to conversing with his friends on his return to A&T about segregation issues. It is believed that this conversation led to the initial sit-in. (Warr) Photo courtesy of Cerese
David Richmond David Richmond was born and raised in Greensboro, North Carolina. He graduated from Dudley High School and attained a high jump record on the track team. He was earning his degree from North Carolina A&T State University in business administration and accounting. (Warr) Photo courtesy of Schlosser
Word reached the Greensboro paper that Woolworth's stores in New York were going to be picketed on Saturday, February 13, 1960. “The purpose of picketing the company's stores in New York …would be to persuade as many people as possible not to patronize them and thus pressure chain officials into integrating the lunch counters in North Carolina and other parts of the South.” (Schlosser) Photo courtesy of Parker Wednesday, February 10, 1960
In the days that followed, several protests continued across North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, and New York. The protests were not only led by students, but by church groups as well. The movement inspired by McCain, Blair, McNeil, and Richmond was picking up speed. (Parker) In mid February, the city council began negotiations with the protestors. Mayor Roach also became involved, and appointed a committee to address the situation. In late February, the counters at Kress and Woolworth's opened up, but they were still segregated. City Council Chair Ed Zane worked hard to increase public support of the integration and was met with some definite opposition. There was no simple answer, and this was becoming very apparent by the write-ins to the Advisory Committee on the segregation issue. The Greensboro paper stated that “these managers cannot let purely business considerations direct their decision. They must not remain blind to the serious nature of the lunch counter protests. They must open their eyes to the possible turmoil which could flare if their counters are open for segregated business with fanfare.” (Schlosser) Safety was a concern when a decision would finally be made.
The Advisory Committee organized by Mayor Roach worked together to resolve the segregation issue. Two thousand concerned citizens wrote to the committee, and 73% of those stated that they were in favor of integrating the lunch counters.
Chairman Zane held meetings with representatives from Woolworth's, Kress and some of the other effected businesses, however, all refused to integrate.
“ On March 31, 1960, a disappointed Zane met with student leaders to break the news.” (Parker)
By the end of March, the protests had spread to 55 cities and 13 states. (Parker)
April, 1960 The students did not give up that easily. They had not come this far and gained this much momentum simply to give up. The Greensboro Chronicle stated that the determined students started up the protests again, beginning with Woolworth's on Elm Street. (Parker) Demonstrators also protested at Kress, and as a result, all the luncheon counters were closed. “ In late April forty-five students (including Ezell Blair, Jr., Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond) were arrested for trespassing as they sat at the Kress store.” (Parker) Everyone was released without bail. Photo courtesy of Warr
A Decision Had Been Made It wasn’t until July 21, 1960, that a positive decision would be reached. Woolworth's manager Clarence Harris met with the Advisory Committee and Chairman Zane in the Woolworth's store. Clarence Harris agreed to serve EVERYONE who was dressed appropriately and behaved well. Kress manager H. F. Hogate was also at this meeting. Hogate chose to open his lunch counters at the same time Harris did. Woolworth's employees Charles Bess, Mattie Long, Susie Morrison, and Jamie Robinson became the first African-Americans to eat at the now integregated lunch counters on July 25, 1960. (Parker)
As a result, one more hurdle had been jumped in the fight to integrate all citizens regardless of color in all areas of life. The Greensboro Chronicle noted that, “by August of 1961 more than 70,000 people had participated in the sit-ins” (Parker) all because four students decided to take a stand against injustice.
Although 3,000 people were arrested by the time the Greensboro sit-ins ended, the movement spurred a number of positive changes.
“ The sit-in’s inspired:
kneel-ins at segregated churches
sleep-ins at segregated motel lobbies
swim-ins at segregated pools
wade-ins at segregated beaches
read-ins at segregated libraries
play-ins at segregated parks
watch-ins at segregated movies.” (Parker)
Of the four men who led the sit-ins, David Richmond experienced the most negative consequences from being a member of the Greensboro Four. He was labeled as a “troublemaker” and eventually forced to leave Greensboro after receiving multiple threats. He moved to a mountain community for several years and later returned to Greensboro to take care of his elderly parents. He had a difficult time finding work in Greensboro because of his past, and eventually became a janitor for the Greensboro Health Care Center. (Warr) A Name Scarred
In the photo at the left black and white students are sitting together at a lunch counter. This shows the impact that four college students can have when they believe something wrong is taking place and decide to do something about it. Ezell Blair, Jr., David Richmond, Franklin McCain, and Joseph McNeil changed the future for all African Americans starting in their own town of Greensboro, North Carolina. Photo courtesy of Warr Photo courtesy of Kim
Memorialized Today, for their roles in changing history, Blair, Richmond, McCain, and McNeil are remembered in many museums and places of honor, including the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. David Richmond was awarded, by the Chamber of Commerce, the Levi Coffin Award for “leadership in human rights, human relations and human resources development in Greensboro.” (Parker) The bronze plaque shown to the right is outside the Woolworth’s store in Greensboro, where the sit-ins began on February 1, 1960. The memorial symbolizes the journey taken by the men in their quest for civil rights. (Loevy) Photo courtesy of Loevy
Photo courtesy of North Carolina A&T State University David Richmond passed away from lung cancer in December of 1990. The remaining Greensboro Four are still friends and get together every year with David Richmond’s family. They meet on the campus of North Carolina A&T State University to commemorate the anniversary of the sit-in movement they instigated on February 1, 1960. This meeting reminds those in attendance that it wasn’t that long ago that segregation occurred, and that brave men can have control over their own destiny. (Warr) Remembering the Past
“ All three of the surviving members continue to work in their local communities to facilitate change. Franklin McCain is particularly interested in education reform in Charlotte, NC, Jibreel Khazan (formerly Ezell Blair, Jr.) works with many youth groups in New Bedford, MA, and Joe McNeil visits schools to discuss the events of February One to a new generation of children.” (Warr) As quoted by George Santayana, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.” The changes that took place at Woolworth's and Kress on July 25, 1960 occurred because of the bravery of four men who saw the injustice in their lives and made the decision to do something about it. The inspiration that was created by their brave act has motivated countless others and has changed the way we live today.
Works Cited Cerese, Rebecca. “Jibreel Khazan (formerly Ezell Blair Jr.” February One Documentary. December 8, 2008. <http://www.februaryonedocumentary.com/jibreel.html> Kim. Flickr.com . February 3, 2005. Flickr.com. December 6, 2008. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/47033737@N00/4217212/> Parker, Amelia. “The People.” May 5, 2008. International Civil Rights Center & Museum. December 1, 2008. <http://www.sitinmovement.org/people.html>. Parker, Amelia. “The Greensboro Sit-in Chronicle”. May 5, 2008. International Civil Rights Center & Museum. December 1, 2008. <http://www.sitinmovement.org/people.html>. Schlosser, Jim. “Greensboro Sit-ins” Launch of a Civil Rights Movement . December 1, 2008. NewsRecord.com. December 1, 2008. <http://www.sitins.com/index.shtml>. Warr, Troy. “February One: The Story of the Greensboro Four”. Independent Lens . November 28, 2008. PBS. December 6, 2008. <http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/februaryone/four.html> Greensboro News and Record. “Woolworth's sit-in”. Separate is not Equal. November 25, 2008. Smithsonian National Museum of American History. December 6, 2008. <http://americanhistory.si.edu/Brown/history/6-legacy/freedom-struggle-2.html> Loevy, Robert D. “Minority Politics”. The Civil Rights Movement. December 6, 2008. <http://faculty1.coloradocollege.edu/~bloevy/civilrights/GreensboroFour.htm>