Instagram photo by blackinblackandwhiteThe winter of 1960, Joseph McNeil the North Carolina A&T freshman was headed back to Greensboro. As the bus pulled into Richmond, Va., McNeil entered the bus depot, he was hungry. A sign at the counter said WHITES ONLY. McNeil would have to go around back & order his food. He refused, & walked out. When he got back to campus, he met with 3 close friends Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr. & Dave Richmond & described what happened. So, on Feb. 1, 1960, the 4 men, in dress shirts & ties, walked into a Woolworth’s on Elm Street in downtown Greensboro. Brought items & paid at the cash register. Then, nonchalantly, they took seats at the lunch counter & asked to be served. They were denied, & told to leave. But they didn’t. They remained seated. The police were called but to no avail... Frustrated, the officer left. After a few hours of repeatedly being denied service, the 4 departed unharmed when the shop closed. But, not before exchanging words with an 80 yr old elderly white woman who had been watching. McNeil recalls her saying, “Boys, I’m disappointed with you.” Cain looked at her & said, “Ma’am, you don’t know us. Why would you be disappointed in us?” The woman replied, “Because it took you so long to do what you’re doing.” The guys were floored. “It was like a shot of adrenaline,” McNeil says. When they got back to their dorm they urged others to return with them the next day, on the condition they do so nonviolently. “There was no master plan,” McNeil says. “It all happened spontaneously.” The following day, more students took part & the media swarmed. As the movement gained momentum, the 4 organizers received threatening phone calls from people who would address them by name, letting them know they’d be waiting if they returned. During one sit-in, McNeil was arrested. “If this is what we need to do in order to bring this down, we’ll do it,” he recalls thinking. By summer, sit-ins had caught fire across the South. On July 25, 1960, after months of bad publicity & losing an estimated $200,000 in revenue Woolworth’s integrated all its lunch counters across the country.
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