[Marxism] Franklin McCain, Who Fought for Rights at All-White Lunch Counter, Dies at 73

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
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 
at 73

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 
York Times.

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 
whispered encouragement.

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 
Carolina system.

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.”

More information about the Marxism mailing list