‘They Sat, So that We Could Stand’

Three of the original students who staged the famous sit-in at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, NC returned as part of the AFL-CIO Martin Luther King Day celebration in Greensboro. From left, Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain and Jibreel Khazan.

Three of the four college students who sat down at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, NC, on February 1, 1960, returned to that city last week as living legends of the civil rights movement and guests of honor at the 2010 AFL-CIO Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Observance.

More than 600 civil and labor rights activists listened as Joseph McNeil, Jibreel Khazan (formerly Ezell Blair, Jr.) and Franklin McCain recalled how they walked into the Woolworth’s department store and purchased several items before sitting down at the whites-only lunch counter. When they were refused service, they refused to leave and the event began that would become known worldwide as the Greensboro Sit-in.

Wearing their best Sunday clothes, the Greensboro Four returned each day to the lunch counter, despite death threats and beatings, accompanied by a growing number of supporters. Within days, there were hundreds of volunteers maintaining a daily vigil that drew national attention and triggered similar protests in 54 different cities in eight states.

IAM Executive Assistant Diane Babineaux, front row, second from right, led a large contingent of IAM members from across the country at the AFL-CIO MLK Holiday observance in Greensboro, NC.

The three former honor students (the fourth student, David Richmond, died in 1990) were presented with “Drum Major for Justice” awards. “We thank you for the vision, the faith, for being ‘crazy enough’ to believe you could change America and make it better for us,” said AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker, as the crowd echoed the appreciation with a sustained ovation.

While the commemoration of the upcoming 50 th Anniversary of the Greensboro Sit-in was a highlight of the week-long AFL-CIO event, additional events honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, including workshops, community service activities and a report from Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez on the enforcement activities of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

 View They Sat, So that We Could Stand.