How a demand for lunch fueled the push for rights

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Fifth Avenue downtown bustles with activity on a blustery recent afternoon. People of all races mingle: This could be any mid-sized city in the United States, circa 2010.

Fifty years ago, things were different. The stores along Fifth – specifically, their lunch counters – and the city itself were the site of a battle that also played out in dozens of other cities in the South.

The fight pitted black college students and a few of their white peers against the city’s white power structure and its downtown merchants over the right to sit down and eat lunch. At the time, blacks could spend money in those stores but couldn’t eat at the stores’ lunch counters.

The lunch counter of 1960 was the equivalent of fast-food restaurants today. Hamburger chains were just beginning to appear on the American landscape. Ray Kroc had opened his first McDonald’s about five years earlier; Burger King had gone national just the year before. People wanting a sandwich or a hamburger popped over to the lunch counter of department stores, drugstores and five-and-dime stores to have a bite.

Except black people.

Campus Life

Welcome to Greensboro

A young activist takes us on a journey to her home city of Greensboro 1 year before the opening of the International Civil Rights Museum. The Museum opened yesterday.

Campus Life

Lucky Citizen Designs Monument to Greensboro 4

GREENSBORO – Charles Jenkins had waited patiently for more than two years for this moment.

In 2007, he had accepted a challenge unlike any other of his life: Craft a sculpture to honor Greensboro’s place in civil rights history.

Jenkins didn’t consider himself an artist, and certainly not a sculptor. He’s a security officer who enjoys sketching — but just for fun.

Never did he expect to be chosen among the artists whose designs would become bronze sculptures of artistically shaped coffee cups to be displayed in the city.

Nor did Jenkins fathom back then where his cup would find a home.

On Monday, he watched workers install it on a granite pedestal outside the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, which will open Feb. 1, at 301 S. Elm St.

Just steps away, the civil rights movement got a boost on Feb. 1, 1960, at what was then the F.W. Woolworth store’s lunch counter, when four young men politely requested a cup of coffee.

In Jenkins’ sculpture, the cup rim became the lunch counter. Seated there are figures of the four N.C. A&T freshmen who launched the sit-ins that day.

“It is good to do something for those four guys,” Jenkins said about the sit-in participants – Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, David Richmond and Jibreel Khazan (formerly Ezell Blair Jr.).

Campus Life

Greensboro Celebrations to Mark Sit-In Anniversary

Celebrations throughout January and on Feb. 1 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Greensboro sit-ins and the opening of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum.

The museum pays tribute to the four N.C. A&T college students who sat down at the segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter on Feb. 1, 1960 and reignited the civil rights movement.

Events include:

* Forum on civil rights law and the Greensboro sit-ins, as part of Elon Law School’s second annual Martin Luther King Jr. program, 6 p.m. Thursday, Elon Law School, 201 N. Greene St.

Participants include Franklin E. McCain, one of the sit-in participants; William H. Chafe, author of “Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Black Struggle for Freedom”; and Romallus Murphy, former general counsel for the North Carolina NAACP.

The forum is free and open to the public, although registration is required. RSVP by Tuesday to reserve a seat, by e-mailing or by calling 279-9275.

* Town Hall Forum, “21st Activism and Protest, the State of the Civil Rights Movement” 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Jan 28, N.C. A&T Alumni Event Center. Co-sponsored by N.C. A&T and Bennett College
* 2010 Community Gospel Concert with conductor Henry Panion, 8 p.m., Jan. 29, Westover Church, 505 Muirs Chapel Road.
* 50th Anniversary Gala, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Jan. 30, Koury Convention Center. Annual benefit dinner honors the unsung heroes of the movement and individuals who have made outstanding contributions in the continuing struggle for justice and racial equality.
* Celebration of Unity Service featuring Grammy Award-winning singer Yolanda Adams, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Jan. 31, Greensboro Coliseum. Free and open to the public.
* 50th Sit-in Anniversary Breakfast sponsored by N.C. A&T, 5:30 a.m., Feb. 1, Empire Ballroom, 203 South Elm St. The university’s Human Rights Medal will be presented by the chancellor at the breakfast.

This is a free ticketed event and is open to the public. Tickets are available at the A&T ticket office.