“I had a feeling of liberation, restored manhood; I had a natural high.”

“I certainly wasn’t afraid. And I wasn’t afraid because I was too angry to be afraid. If I were lucky I would be carted off to jail for a long, long time. And if I were not so lucky, then I would be going back to my campus, in a pine box.”

NPR reports the death of Franklin McCain yesterday, one of four black North Carolina A&T University students who sat down at the segregated lunch counter at the Woolsworth store in Greensboro, North Carolina on February 1, 1960. Franklin McCain, together with Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair, Jr. (later known as Jibreel Khazan), and David Richmond walked into Woolsworth and sat down at the lunch counter. When they were denied service, they refused to leave and stayed until the store closed early.

That simple protest was the start of a renewed wave of civil rights protests in America, as shown in this NPR timeline and triggered dozens of similar sit-ins in the days after their protest, with a thousands protestors showing up at the Greensboro store on the 6th, when a bomb threat by desegration opponents closed both the Woolworths and a nearby department store.

Though the city of Greensboro has long since embraced Franklin McCain and the other three protestors, originally they were called the A&T Four and it’s not surprising the university library’s page on them still refers to them as this. (This site features a long radio interview with McCain, but you’ll need Realplayer to play it.) Another interview, dating from 1979 is available at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro site.

For more on the sit-ins, the Greensboro Sit-ins: birth of the Civil Rights era website is invaluable. To hear more from Franklin McCain as well as Joseph MacNeil and Jibreel Khazan, the local North Carolina NPR station, WUNC has put up interviews held when the Greensboro’s International Civil Rights Center and Museum was opened in 2010, housed in the same Woolworths building where they’d started it all.

Franklin McCain was active in the civil rights movement for the rest of his life. He graduated from A&T and worked as a chemist in Charlotte, North Carolina until he retired. He was seventytwo.

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