State News

Civil rights museum opens at site of Greensboro sit-in

Posted February 1, 2010 4:50 p.m. EST
Updated February 1, 2010 7:51 p.m. EST

— Fifty years after a North Carolina sit-in sparked a movement of nonviolent protest across the South, officials gathered Monday in Greensboro to open a museum celebrating the event.

Hundreds of people came for the opening of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. The project is located in the original Woolworth's, where four college freshman went 50 years ago to begin a nonviolent protest of racial segregation.

“You hear about it. You read about it, but then to be apart of something that is going to be so historic today is just great," spectator Regina Poe said.

Franklin McCain, one of the four students, encouraged activists to seize the moment.

"I hope this says to you, don't ever request permission to start a revolution because people don't like to change," McCain said at the unveiling.

While the Greensboro sit-in wasn't the first of its kind, it quickly became a major focal point of the civil rights movement. The four students - McCain, Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr. and David Richmond – continued returning to the site, and the number of protesters grew to about 1,000 in the first week. It spread outside of North Carolina – to sit-ins in 54 cities in nine states.

"They spurred a nonviolent movement for equality that changed the history of our country," said North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan, of Greensboro.

Thomas Perez, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, said work remains and that racism still exists in both overt and subtle forms.

"We need this Civil Rights Museum so that we remember our history, however painful it may be," Perez said. "We need a robust civil rights division so that we can continue to break down barriers to equal opportunity."

The museum includes the old Woolworth dining room. The original stools and counter remain in the dining room where the four sat and demanded service.