Thanks to Franklin McCain — Charlotte's 'Greensboro Four' civil rights hero

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On February 1, 1960, 51 years ago today, there wasn’t really a national civil rights movement, as far as most of America was concerned. Four years earlier, there was that successful bus thing down in Montgomery, led by a young preacher named – what was it? -- King? And three years ago in Little Rock, the National Guard had been called out to hold off racist violence as black students integrated the schools. Since then, however, nothing much had happened to bring more change. At least on the surface. What most of America didn’t know was that black college campuses had become intellectual incubators for the study of non-violent protests. One of those campuses was North Carolina A&T in Greensboro; and one of the students there was Franklin McCain, a 19-year-old freshman. He and some friends were tired of living with racial segregation, and admired Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent tactics.

So, 51 years ago today, McCain and three friends — David Richmond, Ezell Blair and Joseph McNeil, all also freshmen — sat down at the lunch counter inside the Woolworth's in Greensboro, and ordered coffee. They were refused service and asked to leave, but they stayed until the store closed. The next day, over 20 students joined McCain and his friends at Woolworth's lunch counter. All were refused service and white hecklers jeered and threatened them.  On the third day, more than 60 people showed up for the sit-in. On the fourth day, it rose to over 300 people; by the sixth day, over 1,000 joined in. Within a week after the Greensboro sit-in began, black students in other N.C. towns started their own sit-ins for integration: in Charlotte, Durham, Raleigh, Winston-Salem and others. Then it spread out of state to Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee.

Dozens of lunch counters simply closed rather than integrate. But by May, 1960, students in Nashville won citywide desegregation. And in July, Woolworth’s desegregated its counters in the South. The Greensboro sit-ins turned out to be a catalyst for recharging the civil rights movement, which went on to change America forever.

Franklin McCain went on to graduate from N.C. A&T in 1964, married, and moved to Charlotte, where he worked as a Celanese executive for 35 years,  took part in many civic activities and held numerous leadership roles in the community. McCain is retired and still living in Charlotte. His contribution to the opening up of American society is something this writer is very grateful for, so here’s a big thank you to McCain, his three friends, and all those who followed in their path.

The Greensboro Four sit in at Woolworth's lunch counter. F. McCain is second from left
  • The Greensboro Four sit in at Woolworth's lunch counter. F. McCain is second from left

Franklin McCain
  • Franklin McCain

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