Franklin McCain, one of the men known as the “Greensboro Four” for their role in the civil rights movement, passed away on January 9 at age 71. On February 1, 1960, McCain and 3 other NC A&T freshmen sat down at the “whites only” lunch counter of a Woolworth’s department store in downtown Greensboro. Though refused service, the men remained quietly in their seats as word of their protest spread around the store and into the streets. Unable to displace the young activists, Woolworth’s management closed the store early that day to quell the chaos. But the Greensboro Four returned the next day with 20 students, growing the movement to hundreds by the end of the week. The sit-in movement went national, and the Greensboro Woolworth’s store desegregated their lunch counter in July 1960. On Martin Luther King day, we remember the late civil rights leader who called the sit-in movement “electrifying”.
Civil Rights leader Jesse Jackson attended McCain’s funeral in Charlotte, sharing his thoughts on how the Greensboro Four influenced the freedom we all enjoy today. He said to the Charlotte Observer, “you couldn’t have had too many women and people of color in the new South if not for the risk and the courage of these four men.” President Obama sent a tribute via former Charlotte mayor/Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, who read his statement that McCain, “helped teach us we are the change we seek.”
If you have a chance to visit the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro, you can see the historic lunch counter in its original place. With powerful multimedia effects, the museum honors people such as the Greensboro Four who risked their lives and freedom in the civil rights struggle. With the fight to end segregation won by people like King, McCain and Rosa Parks, there are many causes to fight for in 2014. As our country continues to face hunger, poverty, injustice and many other critical issues, Dr. King’s words resonate with equal power today, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”