People sit down to eat lunch and it’s really not anything of consequence. Most people don’t notice when people sit down in diners, restaurants, etcetera as it is so commonplace. One would therefore think that it would not have been a big to-do when David Leinhail Richmond, Joseph Alfred McNeil, Franklin Eugene McCain, and Ezell A. Blair Jr. sat down in a Greensboro Woolworth’s to eat lunch. This was not the case, of course — it was 1960 and the segregation ran rampant in these United States — clearly not so united at the time.
To me it is flabbergasting that there was a point in time in the history of this free nation when people entered in separate entrances to use the toilet based on the color of their skin and water fountains were not universally accessible. Fifty years ago, these four gentlemen were amongst the first to take action in saying that enough was enough.
It was the simple act of trying to get lunch that was the basic equivalent of Rosa Parks wanting to rest her tired feet at the front of the bus in 1955. McNeil was a full scholarship student at North Carolina A&T State University. The others with him were also excellent students at the very same university — what real crime did they commit when they sat down that day, sixty years ago, to get lunch service at Woolworth’s?
Simply put, they were in the “Whites Only” section and they were not white. This in itself was, believe it or not, an actual crime at the time. They tried to place an order but were denied. Instead of giving up and walking away, they stayed in their place and created an awkward situation for the company that surely thought they would leave at the first sign of service denial.
They went on to bring other students to join the sit-in protest, and then more. Only a few days after the first protest, hundreds of students were protesting. Six months later, people could order food at that Woolworth’s regardless of race — but that was just one restaurant in one city.
Joseph McNeil went on to graduate with a degree in engineering physics. A decade later, one could not find restaurants with separate seating for whites unless one really tried hard or knew where to look — it was finally no longer the norm. To think that it started with four gentlemen who went to sit down for lunch.