Blakeney recalls fellow civil rights pioneer McCain

Jan. 10, 2014 @ 04:49 PM

Mary Lou Blakeney of High Point said that she only met civil rights pioneer Franklin McCain of Greensboro a handful of times, but they share a legacy that not only changed their communities but the nation.
McCain, who died late Thursday, was part of what became known as the Greensboro Four or A&T Four. The young men were North Carolina A&T State University college students who began the movement 54 years ago to confront segregation at lunch counters by sitting down on four seats at a Greensboro Woolworth’s. That day, they were refused service because they were black customers seeking a meal in a whites-only section.
Ten days later, Blakeney and about two dozen high school students in High Point staged a sit-in at the Woolworth’s in downtown High Point, one of the initial demonstrations organized and carried out by high school students as part of the movement.
In February of last year, Blakeney received the Sit-In Heroine Award during a ceremony at the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, housed in what was the Woolworth’s in downtown Greensboro where the original sit-in took place. Blakeney said that she cherishes the memory that McCain presented the award to her.
“I think that he did feel that it was all right to be afraid of a challenge, but challenge it still,” said Blakeney, a former member of High Point City Council.
McCain, who was 73, died in Greensboro after a brief illness, his family said in a statement released Friday. Funeral arrangements are pending, his relatives said.
On Feb. 1, 1960, McCain and three other freshmen students from North Carolina A&T — Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr. and David Richmond — walked into the segregated Woolworth’s department store in downtown Greensboro.
In the days and weeks after, thousands of students and other protesters across the South staged nonviolent demonstrations, launching what became known as the sit-in movement. Though mainly involving black demonstrators, the sit-ins also enlisted support from whites at the time who opposed segregation.
Though facing racial taunts, threats of violence and the possibility of jail, sit-in demonstrators persisted in their campaign that became part of the civil rights movement. Within four years of the sit-ins, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to desegregate public accommodations, such as at lunch counters and on buses.
McCain remained active in political and civic affairs throughout his life. According to his biography, McCain served on the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, including as chairman of the North Carolina regional committee. He also served as chairman of the board of trustees of North Carolina A&T.
The death McCain, who became a research chemist, leaves two of the Greensboro Four still alive. Richmond died in 1990.

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Franklin McCain, who helped spark a movement of nonviolent, sit-in protests across the South by occupying a segregated Woolworth's lunch counter in 1960, has died in North Carolina. He was 73.

McCain's son Frank McCain of Greensboro said Friday he died of respiratory complications late Thursday.

Franklin McCain was one of four freshmen students from North Carolina A&T State University who sat down at the "whites only" lunch counter on Feb. 1, 1960.

McCain, Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr. and David Richmond returned the following days with other protesters growing to at least 1,000 by the fifth day. Within weeks, sit-ins launched in more than 50 cities in nine states. The Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro was desegregated within six months.

McCain became a research chemist. Richmond died in 1990.