On February 1, 1960, N.C. A&T freshmen Ezell Blair Jr. (now known as Jibreel Khazan), Joseph McNeil and the late David Richmond and Franklin McCain ignited a movement at the segregated downtown F.W. Woolworth department store. Their lunch counter sit-in would sweep the nation and help rid the South of Jim Crow laws.
The stools and a piece of the lunch counter where the young men sat are on display in the Smithsonian Institution. They politely asked for service, but their request was denied. When asked to leave they remained in their seats. Their actions sparked a youth-led movement to challenge racial inequality throughout the South.
Events that occurred as a result of this bold action by these four young men included:
- February 2nd, 1960 — twenty–five other students from A&T and other Greensboro colleges and universities joined them.
- During the next 10 days, students across the state participated in similar sit–ins.
- By the third week of February 1960, demonstrations had spread to at least 250 major cities and towns in the U.S. in which over 400 demonstrations took place by the end of 1960.
- Woolworth’s was desegregated by the end of July 1960.
As a result of this movement, significant events in civil rights history occurred:
- The passage of the 1960 Civil Rights Bill.
- The Interstate Commerce Commission ruling in September 1961 against racial segregation on interstate carriers and terminals.
- The first National Public Accommodations Act in 100 years (Khazan 2004).
The legacy of these four heroes proves the true potential and appeal of nonviolence. It was their protest that became the model and inspiration for later civil rights, anti-war and women’s liberations movements. These four young men forever changed the course of history by their bravery and courage.
Jibreel Khazan (Ezell Blair, Jr.) was born in Greensboro, North Carolina on October 18, 1941. He graduated from James B. Dudley High School in 1959 and began his freshman year at A&T College having received an A&T College Alumni Association Scholarship. Jibreel and his roommate, Joe McNeil, one of the A&T Four, lived in Scott Hall their freshman year. He recounts that “on Sunday night, January 31, 1960, we decided we were going to request equal service for all Americans at F. W. Woolworth’s lunch counter on Monday, February 1, 1960.”
Dr. Khazan graduated from A&T with a Bachelor of Science in sociology and social studies. He studied law at Howard University Law School in Washington, DC, education at Massachusetts University in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, and voice at the New England Conservatory of Music. Dr. Khazan has worked as a teacher and counselor and is an oral historian, oracle, Mass-Star Storyteller and lecturer.
Dr. Khazan received the honorary doctorate of humanities degree from North Carolina A&T State University on May 5, 1991.
Franklin Eugene McCain
Franklin Eugene McCain was born in Union County, North Carolina but grew up in Washington, DC. After graduating from Eastern High School, he entered A&T College and earned a Bachelor of Science in chemistry and biology in 1964. He later earned his Master of Arts from A&T and also studied and trained at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, Princeton University in New Jersey, Farr Associates in Greensboro and American Management Association in New York City. McCain recalls that as they talked from September 1959 until January 31, 1960, “we had a common outlook to change the unjust conditions in the society that was pushed forward by frustration.”
Dr. McCain has held leadership positions in numerous community organizations including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. and the National Conference of Christians and Jews. He has sat on the Board of Visitors at Bennett College for Women and the Board of Trustees at North Carolina Central University (July 1, 2005-June 30, 2009) among many others. Dr. McCain was chair of A&T’s Board of Trustees from 2008-2009 and is now a member of the UNC Board of Governors (2009-2013). He holds membership in the A&T Alumni Association.
Dr. McCain was awarded the honorary Doctor of Philosophy in Humanities from NC A&T State University on May 5, 1991.
Joseph Alfred McNeil
Joseph Alfred McNeil was born in Wilmington, North Carolina on March 25, 1942. He graduated from Williston Senior High School and entered A&T College having received an A&T College Alumni Association Scholarship. Joe and his roommate, Ezell Blair, Jr., one of the A&T Four, lived in Scott Hall their freshman year. McNeil says of the sit–ins… “they were just doing what was right”
In 1963, Dr. McNeil earned a Bachelor of Science in engineering physics from A&T and was commissioned a second lieutenant through the Air Force ROTC program on June 1, 1963. He retired from the Air Force Reserves in 2000 as a Major General having being promoted to the rank on February 29, 1996. After a military career of over thirty-seven years, Major General McNeil received the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal upon retirement.
As a civilian, Dr. McNeil developed a management background in corporate finance, investment banking and public services.
Dr. McNeil was awarded the honorary Doctor of Philosophy in Humanities from North Carolina A&T State University on May 5, 1991, and the honorary Doctor of Laws from St. John’s University in Jamaica, New York in 1998.
David Leinail Richmond
David Richmond was born in Greensboro, North Carolina on April 20, 1941. After graduating from Greensboro’s James B. Dudley High School, he entered A&T in the fall of 1959. David majored in business administration and accounting. “We were scared,” Richmond said in 1987. “We tried to encourage each other. We said, ‘I’ll do it if you do it.’ But after we got past Belk’s and turned the corner, I think everybody was ready to do it. Fear will make you crazy, I think. The adrenalin was pumping but if anybody had said, ‘Boo’ at that counter, I think I would have run.”
He became a counselor–coordinator for the CETA program in Greensboro. His work with the CETA program allowed him to work with disadvantaged youth and adults.
David Richmond died at forty-nine years of age in Greensboro on December 7, 1990. Dr. Richmond received the honorary doctorate of humanities degree posthumously from North Carolina A&T State University at his funeral services on December 12, 1990.
On Saturday, February 1, 1997, Dr. Richmond’s unmarked grave was to be memorialized with a monument that read, “David L. Richmond, 1941-1990, civil rights hero; one of the original Greensboro Four; Feb. 1, 1960; Love leads to Freedom.” The monument didn’t arrive in time for the ceremony; however, the dedication took place anyway. David Richmond’s life was celebrated with the play, David Richmond, written in 1998 by Dr. Sam Hay, former A&T faculty member and former executive director of A&T’s Paul Robeson Theatre.
For the six months that followed, hundreds of students, civil rights organizations, churches, and members of the community joined the protest and boycotted the store. Their commitment ultimately led to the desegregation of the F.W. Woolworth lunch counter on July 25, 1960. Their peaceful sit-down was a watershed event in the struggle for civil rights and helped ignite a youth-led movement to challenge racial inequality throughout the South.
February 1, 2020, marks the 60th Anniversary of when these four whose lunch counter sit-in would sweep the nation and help rid the South of Jim Crow laws.