Back in 1960, when four freshmen students at North Carolina A&T State University walked from their campus to the F.W. Woolworth’s Store to sit and request service at the segregated lunch counter, they didn’t know it was Day #1 of Black History Month. They didn’t know their action would light a fire of excitement, inspiration, energy, and determination to take nonviolent direct action at lunch counters throughout the South. It was Monday, February 1, 1960, and for them, that was simply the day they decided to take a stand.
Each year, the International Civil Rights Museum celebrates the Greensboro 4’s courage and legacy with a banquet and gala in Greensboro, NC, and I have been privileged to attend for the last four years. It is always an awesome night. Here is Major General Joseph McNeil speaking to the crowd. One of the two living members of the Greensboro Four, also known as the A & T Four, he always lights up the room with his quiet strength and wise words.
Taken on the second day of February 1960, this photo shows the young Joe McNeil, Frank McCain, Billy Smith, and Clarence Henderson, sitting in at the lunch counter of the Greensboro Woolworth’s Store. They were freshmen, people. First-year students. They were 17 and 18 years old, and while they didn’t know what would happen to them, or what would happen as a result of their actions, but they knew they had to act, and that whatever happened, they would be better off to take courage and make that stand.
No need for movie stars, when the stage glows all evening with starlight from living legends: Community members who have made a difference in the lives of people in the Greensboro area receive recognition and celebration, and bless us with words of wisdom, humor, and expertise in the art of living, working for justice, and finding ways to show up despite devastating challenges, over time and against daunting odds. This year’s honorees included Ms. Rosalyn Smith, the Reverend Dr. Howard A. Chubbs, T.O. Stokes, Jur., and Dr. Alvin V. Blount. Community leaders and public servants fill the room, including Dr. Alma S. Adams, Congresswoman for the 12th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Her chapeau was as elegant as her words were eloquent. What a privilege to have her stepping forward to be a force for goodness and justice in the halls of Congress in the year 2015.
If you have seen the movie “SELMA” ( and if you have not, do so as soon as you possibly can: it is magnificent, beautiful and moving beyond belief), you may recall one of the young leaders who is very tall, and wears a clerical collar. That is Dr. C. T. Vivian, whose has lived a life of courageous leadership, speaking boldly to the powerful people determined to stand in the way of people seeking to register to vote, ride on public buses, swim in public pools, and simply live their lives as free citizens. Dr. Vivian received the 2015 Alston-Jones International Cviil & Human Rights Award, which was presented to him by the Reverend Dr. William J. Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP; Rev. Barber is following in the footsteps of Dr. Vivian and Representative John Lewis and Diane Nash and Fannie Lou Hamer and all the giants and heroes, as he leads the Moral Monday movement today.
Dr. Vivian spoke with conviction, clarity, and spirit, reminding us that we are still on the road, and that we need to speak up, speak out, and act with courage and energy on behalf of freedom and justice for everyone. He lit up the room, making us laugh, and hear deeply. Born in 1924, he is 90 years old, and still going strong, traveling the country to speak, advise, preach and teach.
I came away grateful for the dedication of all those who encourage us to remember, to learn about what happened and where and why, about who brought us this far and what they went through to do so. Black History Month matters, not as a limiting thing, but as an opportunity to focus and look with intention at the people and stories that came before us. I’ll be sharing some words and pictures here this month, and looking forward to events celebrating African American history and people in my community. Just like last year, and with New Year 2015, I’m a little bit slow getting started, but that’s all right: I’ll catch up and keep on going.
What’s happening where you are? Who inspires you when you consider the people who have lifted the lamp high and lit the path, or carved the path when there didn’t seem to be one there? I’ll be thinking about heroes like these honorees, and about the heroism and courage of everyday people as well. So many stories we need to hear, to gather, to share with young people coming along. Happy February, and Happy African-American History Month 2015!.