On February 1, 1960, four black college freshmen from North Carolina A&T State University sat down at a lunch counter in an F. W. Woolworth’s store in Greensboro, North Carolina, and asked to be served. They were told no – the counter was for white people only. The four sat quietly until the store closed, and the next day they came back. Again they were refused service. Again they sat quietly at the counter until the store closed, and returned the next day.
The four students – Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr., and David Richmond – knew they were running a risk of being arrested, beaten, or worse. Across the South, black people were supposed to stay away from whites-only restaurants, drinking fountains, and restrooms. But the four freshmen were determined to challenge segregation.
By day four, the store was still refusing to serve them, and many people were stopping by to heckle or stare. But there were also hundreds showing up to support their silent protest.
As word of the sit-in spread, black students in towns across the South began politely asking to be served at whites-only lunch counters. Whenever police arrested them, more protestors stepped forward to sit in their place.
The sit-ins gradually had an effect. In July 1960, Woolworth’s decided to integrate its stores. Across the South, racial barriers gradually began to fall. The sit-ins helped bring about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned the segregation of public facilities.
The Greensboro Four, as the four brave young Americans came to be known, had helped make the United States a more just place. “This is my country,” said Joseph McNeil, who later served in the Air Force in Vietnam. “I not only fought for it; I fought for the chance to make it right.”