Editorial: Creating change as a pioneer

Jan. 13, 2014 @ 11:01 PM

North Carolina lost a valued part of history last Thursday. Franklin McCain, considered the leader of the Greensboro Four, died after a brief illness.

As history goes, McCain’s impact won’t be lost. But few children, or adults, in North Carolina probably recognize his name. Maybe fewer still recognize the Greensboro Four.

But mention the lunch counter at Woolworth’s in Greensboro, the civil rights era, and we usually put it together. Battles and speeches and other parts of history are much the same for those of us without razor-sharp recall.

Remembering the change after, however, is no problem.

McCain, Joseph McNeil, Jibreel Khazan (formerly Ezell Blair Jr.) and the late David Richmond were credited by Dr. Martin Luther King with giving the civil rights movement a needed boost. A significant amount of time had passed since Rosa Parks failed to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala.

The Greensboro Four, as McCain told it, weren’t so much mad with white people. They were upset with their country’s system, one that left them feeling betrayed as individuals where all men were created equal.

The color of their skin was the only reason they were not, and it fueled the actions of many, both black and white. McCain and friends turned passion into action.

That’s really the mark of most any pioneer. Passion is there long before the deciding moment creating history.

The Greensboro Four wanted a societal change. They couldn’t have been more surprised when, after first being refused service and a few minutes later denounced by a black waitress, a white female customer told them she was proud of them and asked why it took so long.

Tom Ross, president of the University of North Carolina system, points out McCain’s service didn’t end at the lunch counter. He was a civic and political figure in Charlotte and rose to be an executive at a chemical company.

He served many boards, including at N.C. A&T, Bennett College, N.C. Central and the UNC Board of Governors.

The Greensboro Four recognized the physical danger of white men with billy clubs and hangings. They understood the mental intellect of blacks and whites who accepted the status quo.

They wanted change. They found a way to help create it. And we remember McCain as a great part of our history.