Counteracting racism was never as literal as it was on Feb. 1, 1960, when four college students decided to protest segregation by holding a sit-in at a Woolworth’s Department Store in Greensboro, North Carolina. At the time blacks were allowed to shop in the store, but not eat at its lunch counter.
Fifty years later, that building is now home to the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, which held its grand opening Monday to a crowd of almost 4,000. Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, and Jibreel Khazan (formerly Ezell Blair Jr.)–three of the four men who started the Greensboro sit-in–were in attendance for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson Sr., North Carolina Gov. Bev Purdue, were also at the ceremony.
“These four young men were just simple freshman at North Carolina A&T State University. They sat down and had the courage and intestinal fortitude to make a difference.” says Skip Alston, co-founder of the museum.
The “whites only” lunch counter and stools where the men sat have never been removed and is one of the museum’s main attractions. Remnants of Jim Crow segregation and a memorial honoring civil rights leaders are also on display.
Visitors to the museum will be able to see an exhibit that highlights accomplishments of African Americans in addition to one that covers discrimination in most aspects of society including: education, voting, employment, transportation, housing and recreation. People will also learn about international acts of disobedience, including those occurring in Tiananmen Square in China and in South Africa during apartheid.
Restoring the old Woolworth building took 16 years and $23 million worth of renovations. The museum also received $14 million in Federal Historic Preservation Tax incentives along with corporate donations to open in time for the 50th anniversary of the sit-in and Black History Month.
The International Civil Rights Center and Museum is open six days a week. ( It is closed Mondays.) Admission prices range from $4-$6. The museum will host a 50th anniversary gala Feb. 13. For more information call (336) 274-9199 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.