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Franklin McCain: He Integrated Woolworth’s Lunch Counter

On the afternoon of Feb. 1, 1960, 19-year-old Franklin McCain – accompanied by David Richmond, Joseph McNeil, and Ezell Blair Jr., three of his North Carolina A&T classmates – walked into an F.W. Woolworth store in Greensboro, N.C. After buying a few small items, he and the others sat down at the lunch counter. When they tried to order coffee, the white waitress refused them. “We don’t serve colored here,” she explained, according to a contemporary New York Times account.

“I beg your pardon,” McCain replied. “You just served me at a counter two feet away. Why is it that you serve me at one counter and deny me at another?”

With that polite but firm act of defiance, McCain, who died on Jan. 9 at age 73 in Greensboro, helped change the world. When he and his friends weren’t served, they returned the next day with a dozen more students. Over the weeks and months that followed, the numbers of demonstrators grew. Finally, that July, the local Woolworth’s relented, opening its lunch counter to everyone regardless of race.

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But it wasn’t over then. The Greensboro Four, as they came to be known, triggered a wave of similar nonviolent protests in other cities throughout the South, which helped hasten the end of segregation. According to civil rights historian Taylor Branch, the bold action by McCain and his classmates, and the wave of protests elsewhere they triggered, left established civil rights organizations such as the Southern Christian Leadership Council scrambling to catch up. Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, after witnessing some of the protests, called a colleague and told her, “You must tell Martin [Luther King Jr.] that we must get with this,” adding that the demonstrations might “shake up the world.”

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Here are some facts about McCain and the peaceful revolution that he helped to lead.


In this 2008 video, McCain tells a group of elementary school students, including his grandson, about the sit-in. YouTube Preview Image


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