February 1: The Greensboro Four

Black History Month
Black History Month
Black History Month Photo credit Audacy

Four friends sat down at a lunch counter in Greensboro on February 1st, 1960. Although it doesn't seem like a legendary moment, it was.

They were African American and sat in a spot that was off-limits to them. To protest segregation, they took a stand by doing this. Joseph McNeil, David Richmond, Ezell Blair Jr. (later Jibreel Khazan), and Franklin McCain were first-year students at the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina (now North Carolina A&T State University). The students wanted to express their opposition to the segregation laws that forbade African Americans from going into particular public spaces. They decided to hold a sit-in at Woolworth's, a store with a variety of goods and a dining area. African Americans could shop in the store and eat at a stand-up snack bar, but could not sit at the lunch counter.

The night before the sit-in, the students hardly slept at all. They were aware of the impact their actions and feared that they would be killed, beaten, or arrested. However, they were adamant about defending their rights as well as those of all African Americans.

They visited Woolworth's the following day. A waitress informed them that there were no blacks allowed to eat at the lunch counter when they sat down. Nevertheless, they made their orders. They were asked to leave by the store manager. The manager called the Greensboro police chief, who said he could do nothing as long as they remained quiet as they remained in their seats. The four students departed without incident as the store closed early.

They invited members of several campus organizations to join them and the following afternoon, over twenty African American students attended Woolworth’s. They were harassed by a few white onlookers, but no one used force. Each day, more students participated in the protest. Soon, white students who supported the cause and black students from other colleges joined the sit-in. The protesters picketed outside Woolworth's and started a second sit-in at a nearby store when the lunch counter became overcrowded. No one was hurt, but some of them experienced harassment and received threatening phone calls.

Other North Carolina cities' students organized their own sit-ins. Other Southern states soon joined the nonviolent demonstrations at stores with segregated lunch counters.

On July 25, 1960, six months after the sit-in started, the Greensboro Woolworth's finally started serving black customers at its lunch counter. The workers at the lunch counter were the first ones to be served. Three hundred African Americans ate at that lunch counter during the first week.
The Greensboro Four rose to prominence by opposing discrimination. They have earned legendary status in North Carolina history as a result of their bravery and perseverance.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Audacy