Remembering the sit-ins of 1960

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...Violating a social custom as rigid as law, Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr. and David Richmond sat near an older white woman on the silver-backed stools at the F.W. Woolworth. The black students had no need to talk; theirs was no spontaneous act. Their actions on Feb. 1, 1960, were meticulously planned, down to buying a few school supplies and toiletries and keeping their receipts as proof that the lunch counter was the only part of the store where racial segregation still ruled....

"Greensboro was the pivot that turned the history of America around," says Bill Chafe, Duke University historian and author of "Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina and the Black Struggle for Freedom."

On Monday, the 50th anniversary of that transformative day, the International Civil Rights Center and Museum will open on the site of the Greensboro Woolworth store. The dining room is still there, with two counters forming an L-shape. One counter is a replica because the fixture was divided into parts and sent to three museums, including the Smithsonian. But the original stools and counter remain where the four sat and demanded service....

Few people expected a group of young men, just 17 and 18 years old, to be so determined, McNeil says. They underestimated the students' ability "to take on something difficult and sustain the effort for a long period of time," he said.

"We were quite serious, and the issue that we rallied behind was a very serious issue because it represented years of suffering and disrespect and humiliation," McNeil says. "Our parents and their parents had to endure the onus of racial segregation and all that it did in terms of being disrespectful to human beings and the difficulties it places in so many ways of life, not just public accommodations, but in areas like employment and education.

"Segregation was an evil kind of thing that needed attention."

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