How sitting at a 'whites only' counter in Greensboro, N.C., changed everything

Fifty years later, the event that made Charlotte's Franklin McCain an historical figure continues to define his life. Nothing's compared since.

"Not even close," McCain said last week. "Not even the birth of my first son. I told him that, too."

On Feb. 1, 1960, a Monday like today, McCain and three other freshmen at N.C. A&T University in Greensboro, walked a mile from campus to the F.W. Woolworth five-and-dime on North Elm Street, to make a statement against segregation. They purchased a few items — McCain bought toothpaste and a composition book — and asked for receipts. Then they found the "whites-only" lunch counter and simply sat down.

First McCain and Joseph McNeil, then Ezell Blair Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan) and the late David Richmond.

They ordered coffee.

Today, McCain will return to that five-and-dime to take part in the opening dedication of the long-awaited International Civil Rights Center & Museum, following a weekend of events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Greensboro Four's history-altering protests.

All four had arrived at the Greensboro campus of like mind, angry "at the system," said McCain, 69.

"It had betrayed me," McCain said. "My parents and grandparents told me if you believe in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution; if you adopt the Ten Commandments as a code of ethics; if you go to school and work hard and do things for other people — quite often without them knowing it — if you did all those things, you'd have a good chance at success.

"The system still betrayed us. I considered myself as part of the big lie. All four of us did."

McCain and Richmond, who died in 1990 of cancer, were roommates in Scott Hall; Khazan and McNeil lived down the hall. That semester they had three classes together and met nightly to study and talk about injustices.

"The more we talked, the more we felt we were living out the lie," McCain said. "The only thing we'd done is dissected a system, criticized it and our parents and other folk who tried to nurture us.

"We didn't like that feeling."

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