Franklin McCain, one of the “Greensboro Four” who in 1960 sat down at a whites-only lunch counter in North Carolina and launched a sit-in movement that would soon spread to cities across the nation, has died.

McCain died Thursday “after a brief illness at Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro.”

McCain once told NPR, as WUNC says, about how he overcame any fear about being arrested — or having something worse happen:

"I certainly wasn’t afraid. And I wasn’t afraid because I was too angry to be afraid. If I were lucky I would be carted off to jail for a long, long time. And if I were not so lucky, then I would be going back to my campus, in a pine box."

In it remembrance of McCain, the station adds this account of the historic day in 1960:

"McCain and his classmates walked into the store, purchased some items and then walked over to the segregated counter. McCain recalls:

" ‘Fifteen seconds after I sat on that stool, I had the most wonderful feeling. I had a feeling of liberation, restored manhood; I had a natural high. And I truly felt almost invincible.’

"He hadn’t even asked for service. When McCain and the others did, they were denied. A manager told them they weren’t welcome, a police officer patted his hand with his night stick. The tension grew but it never turned violent.

"As McCain and the others continued to sit at the counter, an older white woman who had been observing the scene walked up behind him:

" ‘And she whispered in a calm voice,boys, I’m so proud of you.’

"McCain says he was stunned:

" ‘What I learned from that little incident was don’t you ever, ever stereotype anybody in this life until you at least experience them and have the opportunity to talk to them."

"Woolworth’s closed early and the four men returned to campus with empty stomachs and no idea about what they had just started. The next day another 20 students joined them and 300 came out by the end of the week. Word of the sit-ins spread by newspapers and demonstrations began in Winston-Salem, Durham, Asheville and Wilmington; within 2 months of the initial sit-in, 54 cities in nine different states had movements of their own.

"The Greensboro lunch counter desegregated six months later."



Today In Black History: February 1, 1960

  • Ezell A. Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond stage a sit-in at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, NC, beginning the first of the historic sit-ins of the 1960s.

On February 1, 1960, four African American college students sat down at a lunch counter at Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, and politely asked for service. Their request was refused. When asked to leave, they remained in their seats. Their passive resistance and peaceful sit-down demand helped ignite a youth-led movement to challenge racial inequality throughout the South.

By July 25, 1960, F.W. Woolworth agreed to integrate its Greensboro store; four black Woolworth employees — Geneva Tisdale, Susie Morrison, Anetha Jones and Charles Best — are the first to be served.

Today, the site of the building that was Woolworth’s department store is the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. It opened on February 1, 2010, on the 50th anniversary of the original sit in. A section of the Woolworth lunch counter now appears in the display of the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History.

The sit-ins are cited as a key event in the Civil Rights Movement’s push for de-segregation. While legal segregation may seem a thing of the past, schools in America are more segregated now than they were 40 years ago - and in 2011, homeless mother Tanya McDowell was sentenced to 5 years in prison for sending her son to a school outside her district.


PHOTOGRAPHY: Gordon Parks - Segregation Story

The Arthur Roger Gallery is pleased to present Segregation Story, an exhibition of photographs by Gordon Parks. The exhibition will be on view at the gallery from August 2 – September 20, 2014.

Gordon Parks is considered one of the most influential American photographers of the postwar years and was the first African-American to work as a staff photographer for Life magazine.

Read More

The history of segregation in the United States is often seen in black and white. Leslie Bow, professor of English and Asian American studies, is interested in the experiences of communities that fell outside those color lines.

In her new book, Partly Colored: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South, Bow examines what segregation demanded of people who did not fall into the category of black or white — including Asians, American Indians and people of mixed race.

Wisconsin Week: What did segregation mean for people who — as you described it — stood outside the color lines? You posed the question, “Where did the Asian sit on the segregated bus?’

Leslie Bow: I think what’s most interesting to me about a project like this is that we often conflate race with African-Americans or see race as a black-white issue. When we say “multiculturalism” … we don’t think conceptually or theoretically about the challenge that poses to the way we think about racial history in the United States… …

WW: You mentioned your parents, who are Chinese-American. They attended white schools in Arkansas but didn’t socialize with and weren’t invited to the homes of their white classmates and I wondered how much their experience impacted your research interests?

LB: Definitely, because it was something that they themselves did not talk about. What I found was that they mediated that experience by creating a third level of segregation where there was limited social engagement with either whites or blacks. Their social context was wholly Chinese-American at the time. So, to me that was just the jumping off point for really an exploration of ambiguity…(via Mixed Race Studies » Leslie Bow)

The Most Poignant Photo of Michelle Obama You’ve Ever Seen

First Lady Michelle Obama and Stephanie Kyriazis, Chief of Interpretation and Education, mirror the past of segregation in a photograph taken on May 16th at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas. This is a truly compelling image of both FLOTUS and America’s racial realities.

We often talk about the importance of having the Obamas in the White House for reasons that go beyond just the political. Many tend to forget how recently systems like slavery and segregation were in place in this country. Just fifty years ago, our First Lady would not have been allowed to use the same bathroom as the woman she is facing.

When people talk about the impact of just the visual of the Obamas—simply seeing them occupy spaces that no other people of color, black or otherwise have ever been in in America, they’re talking about images like this.


Welcome to the new segregation

(by Dennis Parker)

In an iconic image painted after the Supreme Court’s historic Brown v. Board of Education decision, Norman Rockwell depicted a solitary black girl, dressed in a crisp white dress, walking to class on what is obviously her first day at a newly desegregated school. What sears the image in our memory are her surroundings: four federal marshals, assigned to protect her as she makes her way through a hostile crowd.

Were the painting done today, it might show law enforcement acting in a very different capacity. Instead of leading a black child safely into school, the image might very well be of police officers escorting a child out.

Sixty years after the Brown decision, de facto segregation persists because of a complex web of factors rooted in our nation’s long history of discrimination. But segregation is only one of the issues faced by students of color. Increasingly, minority children are drawn into the so-called school-to-prison pipeline – the phenomenon in which draconian disciplinary policies force students out of the educational system and into the criminal justice system. 

This extreme approach – which includes the overly strict enforcement of zero-tolerance policies, the use of suspension and expulsion at younger and younger ages, and increasingly turning students over to law enforcement – has resulted in a skyrocketing number of students receiving harsh punishments. Much of the increase is the result of heightened concerns over school violence, even though research shows there is no safer place for kids than in school. Another factor is the persistent misperception that students of color are inherently more dangerous.

Whatever the cause, the effects of the pipeline are both damaging and unfair. These policies have contributed to the criminalization of the classroom, whereby small infractions that would in the past have led to a trip to the principal’s office and a sharp warning or detention, now become the basis for out-of-school suspension, expulsion, or, increasingly, a trip to the police station. While white children have become victims of the school-to-prison pipeline, it is students of color who feel its effects most harshly.

The clearest indication of this criminalization has been the proliferation of law enforcement in our schools. Police officers have become a regular and growing presence in schools across America, particularly in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Instead of investing in guidance counselors and librarians, school districts are pouring money into school resource officers to patrol schools, permanent metal detectors and state-of-the-art surveillance systems. Often students must submit to regular and invasive searches of their bags, coats and lockers from police officers. A place that should be a safe and enriching environment has increasingly taken on the air of a penal colony. The result has been a corresponding increase in kids being pushed out the school-house door and through the prison gates.

Fifteen-year-old Kyle Thompson is one such victim. A year ago, the black freshman got into a playful tug-of-war with his teacher over a note. When Kyle saw the situation had turned from lighthearted to serious in a flash, he dutifully handed the note to his teacher. The incident got Kyle placed in handcuffs, then put on house arrest, and ultimately expelled from all state public schools for a year because of Michigan’s zero-tolerance laws – laws which take kids like Kyle and harshly punish them regardless of the circumstances.

The impact on students like Kyle is severe and long-lasting. Pushing children down the school-to-prison pipeline by taking them out of school and placing them in the criminal justice or juvenile detention system all but eliminates their chances of getting into college or even graduating from high school.

These policies, statistics show, disproportionately affect black students.

In the United States, 16% of all students enrolled in U.S. public schools are black, while 51% are white. Nevertheless, black students are suspended and expelled at three times the rate of white students, according to data recently released by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. More damning is the fact that black students account for 31% of all school-related arrests when they make up only one-sixth of the public school population. In other words, there’s a one-in-three chance that every time a police officer leads a student out of school in handcuffs, that student is black.

The harmful impact is not limited to those students actually expelled from schools. The transformation of schools from institutions of learning to places more reminiscent of prisons exacts a daily toll on all students. Children get the message, and it angers them and tears at their self-esteem. They feel the stigma of suspicion and lower expectations that comes with schools that feel more like cell blocks patrolled by guards than safe places administered by teachers who care about them and their future. “They’re treating us like criminals, like we’re animals,” one New York City public school student told ACLU researchers a few years ago.

In 1954, the problems of racial discrimination were explicit. Today they are subtle and structural. The Supreme Court in Brown may have put an end to de jure segregation, but the school-to-prison pipeline is once again teaching children of color that they are indeed separate, and certainly not equal.

(Photo illustration by Mina Liu for MSNBC, Photos by Scott Olson/Getty)



So for those who don’t know any of the history of the integration of America’s public schools, you should Google the LR9. It’s such a well-documented history that I won’t bother rehashing what others have already covered. I’ll just add some odds-n-ends commentary to supplement what you’ll readily find online:

  • Carlotta Walls is the young woman in the second panel, standing closest to the guardsman, looking directly at the camera. She was the youngest of the 9. Ms. Walls actually signed up to attend Little Rock Central High School WITHOUT FIRST TELLING HER PARENTS. They supported her decision to go to Central, after the fact. More on her below.
  • Go home nigger! Go back to Africa!,” is what Hazel Bryan is spewing at the back of Elizabeth Eckford's head, in panel four. The two women actually actually met again as adults, and they reconciled; sort of. That story is interesting, and can be found here:
  • Panel seven depicts a contemplative Ernest Green on graduation day, 1958. He was the first to receive his diploma from Little Rock Central. More on him below.
  • The next-to-last panel shows the LR9 receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Bill Clinton, in the East Room of the White House, November 9, 1999.
  • That last photograph was taken just this past June, in the auditorium of Central High. From left to right are Ernest Green, Carlotta Walls-LaNier, Spirit Trickey (daughter of LR9 member Minnijean Brown) and current Central High principal Nancy Rousseau.

So I was in Little Rock, AK, last month, on history business which placed me in that auditorium, merely three rows away from the panelists. Here is some of what Mr. Green and Mrs. Walls-Lanier shared with the audience on Wednesday, June 4, 2014, while reflecting on their experience integrating Central:

Earnest Green

… We were the first back-packers. It only took us about a week of having our books knocked out of our hands several times a day and getting hit in the face with debris to realize that we needed our hands free. So we bought back packs to carry our books around in so that our hands would be free.

… We developed a system, along with the National Guard, to move through the halls safely. We would always walk up against the walls of the school building - in the hallways, through the stair wells - so that the Guard could walk beside us a shield from the white students who most vehemently didn’t want us there.

… When it came close to time for me to graduate, the principal of the school offered to mail my diploma to my house, so that I could avoid the tension of walking across the stage. I politely refused and stated that I intended to walk across that stage like everyone else. There was no way I was gonna miss out on that, after all I had been through… When I walked across the stage, there was dead silence. And then one slight Black man in a nice suit, who was sitting next to my parents, began to clap. That man was Martin Luther King, Jr. He had been following us in the news, and came just to support us. Luckily, white folks hadn’t yet discovered him. This was 1958, so we knew who he was, but most of them didn’t yet.

… I received an invitation to my 50th class reunion. I assume there had been other ones, since the invitation said “50th,” but it was the first one I’d ever received. So I went, in 2008. Everyone was nice to me, and many people even posed for pictures with me with their families. The funny thing was… they all were against racism, and told me how much they hated the way I was treated while at Central, but nobody in that reunion that night was racist, and certainly none of them had been involved.

… I learned that night that this one main group of our tormentors was being assisted by some of the teachers in the school. It was our chemistry teacher, who actually seemed pretty nice, who was making the bombs that that group used to firebomb some of our houses.

Carlotta Walls-LaNier

… I want to make one thing clear: we wanted to come to Central because it was the best high school in the city. Period. I don’t get a kick out of sitting next to white people, so I wasn’t here for that. Today this school is ranked in the top 16 of U.S. public high schools. Central High has always been a top-notch school. So I wanted to come here because I had plans for my life post-high school, that demanded that I get the best education Little Rock had to offer.

… My parents had no idea that I had signed up to attend Central. But they didn’t object once I told them. I waited until about two weeks before school was about to start before I did, though. 

… In my family, we didn’t talk about what happened to me at school each day. There was the news, and eventually the National Guard could be withdrawn, but it was just something we never discussed at home. You know, there is counseling for soldiers who return home from war, but we were children, and we were traumatized daily in this school, for years, yet no one provided any of us any kind of relief or counseling. 

… Some of the very people who tormented us the most came up to us at the reunions. One leader of the pack, in particular, who I’ll never forget, because he’s since been… well, his troubles with the law were in the local news, so it’s not a secret… He came up to me and introduced me to his wife and children, asked to take a picture with me, and even asked me for my autograph. He acted like he had no memory of all the awful things he did to me while at Central.



An exhibition of Parks’ rare color photographs, entitled “Gordon Parks: Segregation Story,” will go on view this fall at The High Museum of Art in Atlanta. The photos capture a particularly disturbing moment in American history, captured via the lives of an African American family, the Thorntons, living under Jim Crow segregation in 1950s Alabama. See all of the photos here.