[Marxism] Franklin McCain, Who Fought for Rights at All-White Lunch Counter, Dies at 73
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Sat Jan 11 07:24:28 MST 2014
NY Times, Jan. 10, 2014
Franklin McCain, Who Fought for Rights at All-White Lunch Counter, Dies
By DOUGLAS MARTINJAN. 10, 2014
Franklin McCain, who helped fuel the civil rights movement in 1960 when
he and three friends from their all-black college requested, and were
refused, coffee and doughnuts at a whites-only lunch counter in
Greensboro, N.C., died on Thursday in Greensboro. He was 73.
The cause was respiratory complications, his son Franklin Jr. said.
Mr. McCain was one of the so-called Greensboro Four, who sat down at
lunch counter stools at an F. W. Woolworth store on Feb. 1, 1960, fully
expecting that they would not be served. When they were not, they came
back the next day, and the next, and the next.
As word of the protest spread, others, in ever-growing numbers, joined
them. By the end of the fifth day, more than a thousand had arrived. And
on July 25, the store relented and made the lunch counter available to all.
It was not the first such sit-in. After the Supreme Court’s order to
desegregate the public schools in 1954, activists tried to integrate
lunch counters in Oklahoma City, Baltimore and other cities on the
periphery of the segregated South. There had been similar efforts in the
Deep South, particularly in Orangeburg, S.C., in 1955 and ’56 and in
Durham, N.C., in 1957.
But the Greensboro episode, by most estimations, had the widest impact,
inviting national publicity and inspiring a heightened level of activism
among college students and other youths. Later that year, the Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, one of the most effective civil
rights groups, was born in Southern black colleges.
Others soon imitated the Greensboro campaign in more than 55 cities and
towns in 13 states. Only some were successful, but their cumulative
effect was to contribute to the momentum that led to the Civil Rights
Act of 1964, which banned segregated restaurants with interstate
operations, as Woolworth had.
The Woolworth sit-in could be traced to the fall of 1959, when Mr.
McCain and three other freshmen at the Agricultural and Technical
College of North Carolina in Greensboro would get together to bat around
issues of the day as “elementary philosophers,” as Mr. McCain put it in
an interview for “My Soul Is Rested,” a 1977 oral history of the civil
rights movement by Howell Raines, a former executive editor of The New
Mr. McCain said a large question kept arising in their late-night
sessions: “At what point does a moral man act against injustice?”
On Sunday night, Jan. 31, 1960, they decided to act. Bolstering one
another’s courage, they resolved that they would sit down on
lunch-counter stools the next day and stay there until they were served.
“Well, you know, that might be weeks, that might be months, that might
be never,” one of the four, Ezell Blair Jr., now known as Jibreel
Khazan, recalled saying. The other two students were Joseph McNeil and
David Richmond. Mr. Richmond died in 1990.
Launch media viewer
Yolande Betbeze Fox protesting segregationist store policies in New York
in June 1960. Neal Boenzi/The New York Times
The next afternoon, they walked a mile to the Woolworth at Elm and
Market Streets, arriving about 3:20. They bought some school supplies
and waited for their receipts as proof of purchase. They later recalled
chafing at how eagerly the store had taken their money for merchandise
while refusing it at the lunch counter, directing them instead to a
basement hot dog stand.
“We wonder why you invite us in to serve us at one counter and deny
service at another,” Mr. McCain recalled saying. “If this is a private
club or private concern, then we believe you ought to sell membership
cards and sell only to persons who have a membership card. If we don’t
have a card, then we’d know pretty well that we shouldn’t come in or
even attempt to come in.”
That, he recounted, “didn’t go over too well.” But as he sat waiting for
a doughnut that he knew would never come, Mr. McCain felt oddly empowered.
“The best feeling of my life,” he said in an interview with The
Associated Press in 2010, was “sitting on that dumb stool.”
“I felt so relieved,” he continued. “Nothing has ever happened to me
before or since that topped that good feeling of being clean and fully
accepted and feeling proud of me.”
Mr. McCain described the scene to Mr. Raines. A police officer paced,
patting a club in his hand, but without provocation he seemed powerless
to act. A black dishwasher derided “the rabble-rousers” as potentially
hurting black people. Some whites uttered racial epithets, but others
One white woman said that she was proud of the young men and that she
wished they had acted 10 years earlier. At that moment, Mr. McCain later
said, he discarded any concept he had of racial stereotypes.
Franklin Eugene McCain was born on Jan. 3, 1941, in Union County, N.C.,
and raised in Washington. In a biography prepared for the PBS
documentary “February One” in 2010, Mr. McCain said he had grown up
being taught what he called “the big lie” — that if he behaved and
studied hard, all opportunities would be open to him.
At North Carolina A&T, he earned a degree in chemistry and biology. He
went on to work as a chemist and sales representative for the Celanese
Corporation for nearly 35 years. He was active in civil rights
organizations and served on the boards of his alma mater; his wife’s
alma mater, Bennett College, a historically black college for women in
Greensboro; and the governing body for the 17-campus University of North
His wife, the former Bettye Davis, died in 2013. In addition to his son
Franklin Jr., his survivors include two other sons, Wendell and Bert,
and six grandchildren.
In 2010, the building that housed Woolworth became the International
Civil Rights Center and Museum. Part of the lunch counter became an
exhibit in the Smithsonian.
Years earlier, on Feb. 1, 1980, all of the Greensboro Four returned for
a re-enactment of their historic action. A black vice president of
Woolworth was there to serve them. Because of the flurry of celebration
and the crush of reporters, the guests of honor never got to eat.
“Twenty years ago I could not get served here,” Mr. McCain said. “I come
back today and I still can’t get served.”
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