GREENSBORO, N.C. — By 5:30 a.m. Monday, energetic people with smiles on their faces had filled the Empire Room at the Elm Street Center in Greensboro, N.C., to celebrate the accomplishments of four men.
Family, friends and admirers came to support Franklin McCain, Jibreel Khazan, Joseph McNeil and the late David Richmond at the 50th Sit-In Anniversary Breakfast Celebration. The breakfast titled, “A Spiritual Thanksgiving,” was one of the closing ceremonies of the five-day celebration.
Known as the “A&T Four,” these men paved the way for the student-led protests and sit-ins of the 1960s.
McNeil said he had so much to be thankful for, including teachers who taught him the principles of life, how to be a good citizen and the effects of nonviolence.
“I believed in self-defense early, but somebody taught me that we can use a tool like non-violence to bring about major change,” he said.
McNeil and the other two survivors gave words of motivation to the younger generation. McCain stressed his concern for youth encouraged them to stand up against inequality.
Khazan gave a similar message to A&T students. “A&T, we are the Phoenix and we’re on the rise,” he said.
Richmond’s son, David Richmond Jr., had mixed feelings. “This moment is bittersweet, because I wish my father could have been here,” Richmond said of his father who died of lung cancer in 1990.
“I did not understand the significance of what these men truly did,” he said. “These gentlemen here have served as a great role model for all of my life.”
Brenda Harris attended Dudley High School with Richmond and upon finding out that he was part of the sit-in at
F.W. Woolworth, she began to protest.
“I had to do what I had to do for civil rights,” Harris said. “It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it and look where we are today. It’s a great celebration.”
Lorraine Stanback, who traveled from New Jersey to support the 50th anniversary, said she is very grateful for what they did.
“The four young gentlemen from North Carolina A&T University had the courage and the determination in a time of fear,” Stanback said. “They took a stand.”
Participants at the breakfast included the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the North Carolina chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers and student leaders from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. The A&T choir sang civil rights hymns; Austin James, Mr. A&T State University, presided over the program; and Syene Jasmin, student government president, introduced the honorees.
Bishop Cecil Bishop, a retired Greensboro leader and former pastor of Trinity AME Zion Church, served as the keynote speaker. The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, was the Human Rights Medalist.
After the breakfast, the honorees attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the International Civil Rights Center & Museum housed in the Woolworth Building. The cold temperature and snow did not stop a crowd from joining them. Buffalo Soldier Eric Stewart said despite the cold, he was excited and honored to be part of history.
“We got to meet a couple of people who were a part of the sit-ins, and that was exciting for me,” Stewart said. “It makes me proud.”
Video by LeeSandre Alexandre.