On February 1, 1960, four black male students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T) sat down at an all white lunch counter at the Woolworth’s store in Greensboro, North Carolina and changed history. 60 years later, Greensboro celebrated the anniversary and the changes made since.
Ezell Blair Jr. (now known as Jibreel Khazan), Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil and David Richmond sat at that segregated lunch counter and waited to be served like white customers. The group sat in those seats until the store closed for the night.
Charles Bess, a busboy working at Woolworth’s at the time, used the 60 anniversary to remember what he saw on that day. He recalls the day that the young men walked into the store and sat down. He remembers them being told by a waitress that they “[didn’t] serve colored folks.” He recites the words that he heard one of them say back to her.
“Why can’t we be served here? We haven’t broke no rules, we got money to pay, why can’t we be served?” recalled Bess, who can also place that this historical kick starter only lasted for 45 minutes.
The bold actions of the Greensboro Four sparked a revolution of policy changes. The very next day, over 20 students from A&T and surrounding schools such as Greensboro College and Bennett College joined them back at Woolworth’s. Within 3 days, the group expanded to include over 300 young people ready for change. Over the next two weeks, other fed-up students across the state were having their own sit-ins at various restaurants and public areas.
By the end of the month, 250 major cities and towns saw their own personal protests. In July of 1960, Woolworth’s desegregated their lunch counters. At the end of 1960, over 400 demonstrations had taken place and the country had the Greensboro Four to thank for it. Many other places in the south also changed their racist policies.
Other historical moments that February One gave rise to was the passage of the Civil Rights Bill of 1960 as well as the first National Public Accommodations Act in a century. The famous sit-in also lead to the Interstate Commerce Commission to ruling against racial segregation on interstate carriers and terminals in September of 1961.
In 2020, sixty years later, a current student at A&T reflected on how the actions of the Greensboro Four set the tone for their own A&T journey.
“Firstly, it brings the student body closer together. I know we all attend an HBCU but this feels more personal. It’s something that we can actually go back and point to and claim it” said the student, who chose to remain anonymous.
NC A&T recognized the anniversary with a full morning of programming, including breakfast, programming, a laying of four wreaths, and a panel discussion. The programming included speaker Roland Martin.
“I’m just glad they felt the need to change the system. I mean we still have a way to go but this is a great non-violent example to use as an outline,” said the student.
All over the country, this event still serves as motivation when positive change is overdue in society. Today, that same Woolworth’s store is now home to the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro.
“Personally for me, I’m always in shock when I think about them having the courage to even do the sit-in. What if they didn’t have the courage? If they were just okay with keeping things the way they were since that’s how it always was? What would life be,” said the student.
The Greensboro Four were commemorated not just locally, but nationally as even Google released a google doodle representing the sit-ins.