Jan 20, 2014
Franklin McCain, one of the four college students to sit-in to integrate a Woolworth’s lunch counter in 1960, died on Jan. 13.
McCain was only a freshman when he decided to act. As he put it, he was “too angry to be afraid.” He and three friends at his college took an enormous risk to attempt the integration of a store in Greensboro, North Carolina at that time. It was common not only for white racists to attempt to terrorize or beat or even murder black people, but it was also common that the law looked the other way.
That’s why McCain recalled the civil rights era in this way: “If I were lucky, I would go to jail for a long, long time. If I were not quite so lucky, I would come back to my campus, but in a pine box.”
Still, McCain and thousands of others decided in the 1950s and 60s that they had had enough of the racism that permeated every aspect of life in the United States. Sit-ins, marches, protests and voter registration drives required enormous bravery. Black people came forward and stood up and took the risks.
Today, the site of the Woolworth’s is a museum to the U.S. civil rights movement. Much changed thanks to what that generation did.
Yet U.S. society is as segregated as ever. Black workers are hit by unemployment and poverty at even higher rates than white workers. Stupid racist attitudes persist, supported by the so-called justice system.
It will take a new generation coming forward to fight again for this society to change, and to make it permanent.