An Open Letter: Remembering the Greensboro Four

Ezell Blair Jr. David Richmond. Franklin McCain. Joseph McNeil.

On February 1, 1960, four young men walked purposefully in the crisp, Carolina air, sharing an uneasy silence. They were making history though they hardly knew it at the time. Between their North Carolina A&T dorm rooms and Woolworth’s Drug Store in Downtown Greensboro, these four students walked in their truth and belief in racial equality, inspired by non-violent leaders both past and present.

Upon arrival, the four men sat at the lunch counter as every other white patron had done before them. The sign placed overtly at their seats made clear: Whites Only. This familiar, if not symbolic, sign of segregation defined the South in its post-Confederate glory.

They waited to be served.

Jibreel Khazan (Ezell Blair Jr). David Richmond. Franklin McCain. Joseph McNeil.

As a North Carolina native, I am familiar with the way the air greets you on a February morning, begging for release from its winter. Perhaps it is the same air to greet the Greensboro Four as they redefined student activism and initiated a movement 56 years ago. On the anniversary of February 1st, I dig into my early adolescent years, remembering when I became intimate with the Civil Rights Movement in a fashion far beyond the glossy pages of my textbooks. At the National Museum of American History, a section of the lunch counter from Woolworth’s Drug Store is memorialized with as many pieces historically reflective of that moment in time. I remember walking around the display on a class field trip while trying to conceptualize the level of absolute fear and conviction that filled the bodies and minds of those brave enough to break the color barrier, to demand equal treatment both under the law and at a simple Five and Dime.

Shontel Gaskin, North Carolina A&T alumna and current Master of Social Work Candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, recalls:

“Attending North Carolina A&T was an incredible opportunity to not only learn about my history but also to be a part of African American History. I lived in Blair Hall, named after Jibreel Khazan (Ezell Blair, Jr.), which served as a reminder of my, our, history. Today, I would be celebrating their legacy at a breakfast held in their memory. As a proud alumna of NC A&T, I strive to uphold the morals instilled in me by my illustrious University and will continue to honor the Black men and women who came before me.”

I will follow Shontel’s lead. Today, we honor the thousands to join Sit-Ins throughout the South during the Civil Rights Movement and the four friends who started it all.

In excellence and truth,

Vanessa Kopp

Co-VP of Academic Programming, BGAPSA

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