On the 1st of February,1960, four Black college students sat, nervous but determined, at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, patiently requesting service. As the “Greensboro Four” expected, they were largely ignored. But the next day they came back, supporters in tow.
For six months they staged the same protest, drawing a larger crowd with each passing day. College students from neighboring schools took shifts in between classes, sitting at the counter, and vehemently resisting the injustice of Jim Crow laws. Their protest rippled across the south, spurring similar demonstrations in dozens of cities. By the end of the following summer, the determination maintained by the Greensboro Four and those they inspired contributed to the official desegregation of restaurants and lunch counters in 126 Jim Crow-infested southern cities.
While the Greensboro sit-in was not the first of its kind, it was the first to draw enough attention to become a force of change. The dozens of protests it inspired is widely-accepted to be the official beginning of a decades-long struggle against de jure racism. Joseph McNeil, David Richmond, Ezell Blair, and Franklin McCain were four remarkably brave freshman at the Agricultural and Technical College in North Carolina. They readily wielded the power of the people in the face of a heinous institutionalized system. Four young men, teenagers, started a revolution in the making, one that continues to fuel American progress in the 21st century.
The four were not new to the civil rights movement, and to some extent, their protest was premeditated. They had grown in their sense of self as young Black members of society, and were in turn made hyperconscious of the oppression they faced. In their decision to sit at a white-only lunch counter, they drew on the courage of the “Little Rock Nine” and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his comrades during the Montgomery bus boycotts, in addition to their outrage at the continued mistreatment of African-Americans like Emmett Till.
The Greensboro Four may seem like a distant memory, however their essence permeates the folds of our present-day struggle with de facto racism in all aspects of American life. A baby born on the 1st of February in 1960 would have enjoyed their 59th birthday at the start of this month. This is not a story of ancient history; it’s the story of our teachers and fellow citizens.
The sit-in marked the start of a monumental shift in American dynamics, however our ingrained ideals continue to require a similar shift. Today, the Woolworth’s where the sit-in took place stands as the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, where American students and revolutionaries alike can gain an understanding of the courage and willpower it takes to make a difference.