Today marks the start of Black History Month, and the opening of a new civil rights museum in North Carolina. Alison Brick has the details.
Fifty years ago today, four African-American men, freshmen at the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina, changed history by sitting down at a Woolworth’s whites-only lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. Their actions inspired sit-ins across the country and galvanized the civil rights movement.
The new museum focuses on the story of the Greensboro Four, as the men came to be known, but it also documents other achievements of the civil rights movement. An archival center, collecting museum, and teaching facility, it’s home to educational exhibits, a gallery, an auditorium, and the proposed Joint Center for the Study of Human Rights.
The original Woolworth’s stools and a section of the lunch counter are there on display (another section of counter went to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History); so is a bus seat signed by Rosa Parks, an authentic wooden slave auction sign, and the Green Book–the 1950s travel directive that identified ‘safe houses’ and establishments that would serve African Americans.
What the Greensboro Four accomplished was pretty remarkable. They quietly returned to the counter day after day, heckled by patrons but increasingly joined by fellow protesters. The sit-ins continued for six months, until the store manager finally relented and desegregated the lunch counter in July 1960.
“This landmark stands as a physical testament to the courage, sacrifice, and commitment those four young men demonstrated 50 years ago,” said Melvin “Skip” Alston, chairman and co-founder of the museum.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony today officially opened the museum–the three surviving members of the Greensboro Four were there: Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, and Jibreel Khazan (formerly Ezell Blair Jr.), plus a representative from the family of David Richmond. Following that, at nearby North Carolina A&T, was the presentation of a human rights medal award, the burial of a time capsule, and commemorative student march.
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If you’re planning a visit to the museum in the next few weeks, it’s a good idea to order tickets in advance, either by phone (+1 866 579 8499), online (www.sitinmovement.org), or at the museum. Tickets cost $8 for adults, $6 for students/youth/seniors, $4 for children ages 6-11.
Photo: International Civil Rights Center & Museum