Seizing Justice: The Greensboro 4

Seizing Justice: The Greensboro 4

In February of 1960, a simple coffee order at America's favorite five-and-dime store sparked a series of events that would help put an end to segregation in the United States. Join us as we detail the extraordinary story of otherwise ordinary young men, four African-American college students whose nonviolent sit-in at a Woolworth's lunch counter started a revolution.

Seizing Justice: The Greensboro 4: Sneak Peek

On February 1, 1960, four young men took a seat at a F.W. Woolworth lunch counter and demanded change. Their bold actions began a six-month long peaceful protest that would change our world forever.

Apostle Doctor Jibreel Khazan, PhD

Apostle Doctor Jibreel Khazan, PhD

Given the outspoken personality of Jibreel Khazan, you wouldn't recognize at first the mild-mannered values his parents sought to instill. Born Ezell Blair, Jr., in Greensboro, NC, he was taught to mind his elders and to avoid stirring up trouble among the white community. The 1955 death of Emmett Till, who was slain for allegedly whistling at a white woman, impacted Khazan deeply. Racially motivated crimes frightened him and instilled a deep desire to bring about change within society. Inspired by a speech from Martin Luther King, Jr., and by the peaceful resistance tactics of Ghandi, Blair knew he had to act on the evils of segregation in Greensboro. But he wasn't initially enamored with the idea of the Woolworth's lunch counter sit-in. His friends persuaded him to join in an act of defiance that would land him a spot in civil rights history. Blair graduated from North Carolina A&T College (now A&T State University), where among other organizations, he was president of the student government association and the campus NAACP chapter. Shortly after college, he moved to New Bedford, Mass. In 1968, Khazan joined the New England Islamic Center and assumed his current name. He now serves developmentally disabled people in New Bedford.

Franklin McCain Franklin

Franklin McCain Franklin

McCain was raised in Washington, DC, where he graduated from Eastern High School. McCain often speaks of growing up as a product of the "Big Lie," which is his name for his parents' claim that if he stayed out of trouble and earned good grades, he could do anything in life. He later realized that the color of his skin made his parents' claim unrealistic. After high school, McCain attended Greensboro-based North Carolina A&T College. His freshman-year roommate was David Richmond, another member of the Greensboro Four. In 1963 McCain graduated from A&T with a degree in chemistry and biology. He stayed in Greensboro to pursue a master's degree and then began his career with the Celanese Corporation in Charlotte, NC, where he stayed for almost 35 years. McCain married Bettye Davis, a fellow participant in the Greensboro civil rights demonstrations. They raised three sons together. Now retired, McCain has remained active in many civic activities, including serving as chair of the North Carolina regional committee for the NAACP legal defense and education fund.

Joseph McNeil

Joseph McNeil

Joseph McNeil was born and raised in Wilmington, NC. Soon after graduating from Williston Senior High School, McNeil's family relocated to New York, where he became accustomed a racially integrated society. He went back to the segregated South in order to attend North Carolina A&T College on a full scholarship. McNeil often cites an event on his way back to school after Christmas break as "one of the many straws on the camel's back." At the Greensboro Greyhound station, staff refused to serve him a hot dog. The shunned McNeil was sparked into action. Shortly thereafter, he and his roommate, Ezell Blair, Jr., joined Franklin McCain and David Richmond in starting the sit-in at Woolworth's in 1960. Immediately upon graduating with a degree in engineering physics, McNeil was recruited by the U.S. Air Force, where he rose to Captain during his six-year career. Throughout his career, which took him from IBM to Banker's Trust in New York City, he remained part of the Air Force Reserves and obtained the rank of Major General. Now retired, he lives with his wife, Ina Brown, and their five children in New York.

NARRATOR - Anna Deavere Smith

NARRATOR - Anna Deavere Smith

Anna Deavere Smith is a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize nominated actress, playwright and professor. She is the recipient of the 2006 Fletcher Foundation Fellowship for her contribution to civil rights issues and a 2008 Matrix Award from New York Women in Communications, Inc. Smith is best known for theater performances in plays such as "Fires in the Mirror" and "Twilight: Los Angeles," both of which featured her as the sole performer and won her the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One-Person Show two years in a row. "Fires in the Mirror" dealt with the 1991 Crown Heights Riot and earned Smith a nomination for Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1993. "Twilight: Los Angeles" dealt with the 1992 Los Angeles riots and earned Smith two Tony Award nominations, one for Best Actress and one for Best Play, in 1994. Her recent play, "Let Me Down Easy," was nominated for the 2010 Lortel Award for Outstanding Solo Show. As a screen actress, Smith has appeared in several films, including "Rachel Getting Married," "The Kingdom," "Rent," "The Manchurian Candidate," "The Human Stain," "The American President," "Philadelphia" and "Dave." In television, Smith currently appears in the recurring role of hospital administrator Mrs. Akalitus in the Showtime series "Nurse Jackie." Among her earlier television series are recurring roles on "The West Wing" (National Security Advisor Dr. Nancy McNally) and "The Practice" (D.A. Kate Brunner).

David Richmond

David Richmond

Born to a family of Greensboro natives, David Richmond was no stranger to the town where he would make civil rights history. Richmond graduated from Dudley High School. His classmates remember him as a soft-spoken young man possessing extraordinary athletic ability, demonstrated by his state high jump record set in 1959. Throughout college, Richmond remained in Greensboro and continued his education at North Carolina A&T College, where he shared a college dorm room with Franklin McCain, another member of the Greensboro Four. Richmond studied business and accounting, but he left college just three credits shy of fulfilling his degree. Richmond worked as a job counselor with Greensboro's Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) program. He eventually left the city after receiving death threats, but he returned almost a decade later to care for his parents. He was the only member of the Greensboro Four to return to the city. The Greensboro Chamber of Commerce awarded Richmond the Levi Coffin Award for leadership in human rights in 1980. He was known for doing favors for those in need, especially for filing taxes for many of his neighbors. Richmond's family says that he wished he could have done more to improve society. He died in December 1990 of lung cancer. A&T later awarded him a posthumous honorary doctoral degree.

There's MORE to the story. Discover the inspirations, see the artifacts and meet the experts of the Smithsonian Institution.

  • DISCOVER MORE STORIES OF FREEDOM & JUSTICE

    "The National Museum of American History is commemorating the Greensboro 4 by exploring stories of freedom and justice throughout the year. Visit their website for learning resources."

    Connect to Smithsonian: Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

  • PRODUCER LYNN KESSLER TALKS ABOUT HER EXPERIENCE WITH THE GREENSBORO 4

    Read producer Lynn Kessler's blog post on "O Say Can You See," the National Museum of American History's blog.

    Connect to Smithsonian: Smithsonian's National Museum of American History