At the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro NC, by Jim LaGrand

June 11th, 2018

For many years now, I’ve taught about the Greensboro Four in my U.S. History survey class. I thought I knew most everything about David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr., and Joseph McNeil—their backgrounds, their dorm room bull sessions about the frustrating “civil racism” of Greensboro, and especially about what they did on February 1, 1960 when they walked from North Carolina A&T’s campus to Woolworth’s to challenge the color line there.

But being in the actual place where history happened and seeing actual physical objects from history often teaches new things. I was reminded of this visiting A&T’s campus and the Woolworth’s which is now within the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro.

After our Returning to the Roots of the Civil Rights Movement tour group visited campus and the statue there memorializing the Four, our tour bus drove to the Woolworth’s. I’d thought it was “off-campus,” just a few blocks away. In fact, it was a 1.5 mile walk from campus to the store and lunch counter downtown every time A&T students wanted to buy notebooks, pens, or personal items at Woolworth’s. Quite a hike.

On that historic day in 1960 after buying personal items, they went to order food at the lunch counter and in doing so crossed the color line. Even after teaching this account for years, I had the layout of the store wrong. It’s one long continuous L-shaped lunch counter. To see this, the actual seats where the Four sat, the cash register, and all the actual artifacts of the past is powerful. History happened here. Four African-American college freshmen started something that ended up desegregating the lunch counter at Woolworth’s and soon all over Greensboro and all over the South.


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