Let Freedom Ring: A Documentary History of the Modern Civil Rights Movement

By Peter B. Levy | Go to book overview

Chapter Four THE SIT-INS AND FREEDOM RIDES

If Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, symbolized a modern-day version of the "shot heard around the world" at Lexington and Concord, the decision of four North Carolina Agricultural & Technical College students to demand service at the lunch counter at Woolworth's in Greensboro, North Carolina, on February 1, 1960, represented an updated battle of Bunker Hill. On that eventful day, Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair, Jr., David Richmond, and Franklin McCain sat down at the lunch counter, ordered coffee and doughnuts, and refused to leave until they were served. By the fall of 1961 every southern and border state--over one hundred communities--had experienced sit-ins. Over seventy thousand individuals participated. Still more donated money or wrote letters of support.

4.1 In the following interview, Franklin McCain, one of the four original sit- in participants describes their plans and feelings. The sit-ins took place against a backdrop of heightened but unfulfilled expectations. The Supreme Court's decision in the Brown case had led young blacks to believe that Jim Crow was on its deathbed. Yet, segregation remained a fact of life. For example, as of 1961, only .026 percent of North Carolina's schools had desegregated, and North Carolina was considered a moderate state. The NAACP kept hammering away at Jim Crow in the courts, but all of its legal victories produced few tangible changes. Disgusted with local subterfuge, McCain and three other black students at North Carolina A&T decided that the time for waiting for the courts to bring about change had passed. It was time to act.

-65-

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