February 01, 2011

Feb 1 - The Greensboro Four

The Greensboro Four
On February 1, 1960, four, African-American college freshmen bravely and quietly sat down at a ‘Whites only’ Woolworth’s lunch counter, in Greensboro, North Carolina and ordered cups of coffee. They were refused and asked to leave. African-Americans were allowed to shop in the store and to order at a stand-up snack bar, but not sit down at the counter.

Friends, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr. (later known as Jibreel Khazan), Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond, knew that they were violating segregation laws, but that was the point…they wanted to challenge and change them, in Greensboro. So, they did not leave when asked to; and instead, despite the Police Chief being called, quietly sat at the counter until Woolworth’s closed early that day. Franklin McCain recalled, "Fifteen seconds after [we sat down], I had the most wonderful feeling. I had a feeling of liberation and restored manhood. I had a natural high. And I truly felt almost invincible. Mind you, [I was] just sitting on a dumb stool and had not yet asked for service."

The following day, The Greensboro Four (as they eventually came to be known) brought fifteen of their fellow students, from The Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina (now North Carolina A&T State University), and the print and broadcast news media covered the sit-in. By the third day, there were three hundred protesters, and Woolworth’s was still standing by the ‘local segregation policies’.

As news began to spread about the sit-in, although harassed by many White customers, more and more students – Black and White – joined them each day. Once the lunch counter became full, the protest spilled outside the store, with picketing, and beyond with additional sit-ins at other Woolworth’s stores in North Carolina and other Southern States; plus any segregated lunch counters throughout the United States. Sales fell by one-third, at the boycotted lunch counters, leading them to eventually drop their segregation policies.

Woolworth's Picketers
On July 25, 1960, six months after The Greensboro Four first sat down to order a cup of coffee, the Black employees of the Greensboro Woolworth’s were the first to be served at the lunch counter. The next day, all Woolworth’s lunch counters became desegregated (although, that was not always honored, in some other States).

Desegregation sit-ins did not begin with, nor end with, The Greensboro Four. In fact, they dated back as far as 1939, when an African-American attorney staged a sit-in at a segregated library in AlexandriaVirginia, and carried on until The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed. However, The Greensboro Four became one of the most significant catalysts for the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, which led to many public accommodations, such as pools, parks, libraries, restaurants and museums to become desegregated.

Woolworth's Sit-in, Jackson, Mississippi, May 1963
In 1993, a portion of the lunch counter was donated to The Smithsonian Institution in WashingtonDC, and The International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro contains four chairs from the Woolworth’s counter, along with photos of the original four protesters, a timeline of the events and headlines from the media. A street, in Greensboro, was named February One Place, in commemoration of the date The Greensboro Four first sat down; and a statue of them was erected at their alma mater.

To make such an incredible impact on history; and yet, when the four friends decided to take their brave ‘seats’, as Jibreel Khazan recalled, “We didn’t want to set the world on fire. We just wanted to eat.”

Smithsonian Exhibit, Washington DC

Sources: Wikipedia, NPR, North Carolina Museum of History, Google Images


  1. Zena,

    This is an awesome idea! I look forward to your posts everyday. Today I don't think we comprehend the courage it took to do what these guys did. Having spent my childhood in the then-racist South (and we know some of it is still here - it just hangs on the fringes of society) I am amazed at what I witnessed and how it just seemed "normal" at the time. Thank God we have a new "normal". Even before Dr. King was in the spotlight, it was done with the realization that violence wasn't the answer, even if violence was the received response.


  2. Thank you, Joel! It's lovely to get your perspective.

  3. Zena,

    I am a friend of Marty and Gina and pleased that Marty is sharing your comments. A wonderful way to celebrate Black History Month and reflect on our history. I have a 14 year old daughter who will also benefit from your blog, thanks.

    Gay Hinds

  4. I'm so pleased, Gay! Thank you very much to you and your daughter, for your support.

  5. Recently, I read a book about this issue, and everytime I hear about these foolish behaviour from white people I'm so ashamed that I'm a white person!

    Willy ter Haar
    Houten - Holland

  6. You should not be ashamed; but it is good to know the history, and teach people in the future about it, so that it never happens again. Thank you for reading my blog!

  7. Great blog Zena! Very comprehensive and concise. I was reading J.A Rogers' "World's Great Men of Color" and wanted to some additional research on Eugen Chen. I am pleased to have come across your blog in the process. Keep up the good work and continue to contribute... We need you.

  8. Many thanks! Your feedback is greatly appreciated.