Embracing, Engaging, Imagining: N.C. A&T Celebrates 63rd Anniversary of Sit-In

By Jackie Torok / 02/01/2023 Alumni

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (Feb. 1, 2023) – The North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University community gathered Wednesday morning to celebrate the 63rd anniversary of the A&T Four’s legendary sit-in at Woolworth’s Department Store that galvanized the Civil Rights Movement.

The actions of freshmen Jibreel Khazan (formerly Ezell Blair Jr.), Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain Sr. and David Richmond on Feb. 1, 1960, prompted others to conduct similar peaceful protests against racial injustice in at least 250 municipalities across the country by the end of that month. Khazan and McNeil are the final surviving members of the Four.

McNeil – a retired Air Force major general who turns 81 next month – was joined at the event by members of his family, as well as family members of Khazan, McCain and Richmond for the program, “Embracing Our Past, Engaging our Present, Imagining Our Future.” Khazan was unable to attend.

The capacity crowd for the early-morning event included local and state dignitaries, faculty, staff, alumni, current A&T students – including February One Scholars – and students from the A&T Four Middle College at A&T, Bennett College and Dudley High School. In 1960, students from the latter two institutions, along with UNC Greensboro, joined in and continued the momentum of the sit-in until summer, when the chain store changed its policy nationally to guarantee equal access to its lunch counters.

Following breakfast, performances by the award-winning N.C. A&T Fellowship Gospel Choir and the recognition of honored guests, the event featured a panel of four former Student Government Association presidents: Marcus Bass ’09, Pamela Buncum ’81, David J. Miller III ’90 and Delaney Vandergrift ’18.

Oliver M. Thomas ’06, Ph.D., M.Div., the university’s external affairs director, moderated their discussion, which focused on the social impact of the A&T Four, the important strides made since that historic date and the critical challenges that remain today.

“It was never about the breakfast (at Woolworth’s). It was about the opportunity – and it was never about eating where white people ate,” said Bass, executive director of Advance North Carolina. “It was about the ability to do what any and all of us in here want to do: live and exist freely in this country, anywhere in any building, especially public venues.

“When we think about the equality, the access, there are still areas where we cannot go. There are still institutions that won’t accept our brilliance.”

After a career as an accountant and financial internal auditor, Buncum uses her professional and volunteer experiences to serve various community, civic, educational and political organizations. She recalled the Greensboro Massacre in 1979 when members of the Ku Klux Klan killed five people and were later tried, all during her time as an A&T student.

“The A&T Four started a movement. It wasn’t a moment,” said Buncum, the university’s fourth female SGA president. “Students were expected to be a part of (fighting) any social injustices in this city and the nation.”

Miller is assistant superintendent of Lexington City Schools and pastor of Hope Community Christian Church. While an A&T student, he was active in the anti-apartheid movement and instrumental in leading the protest that ultimately made the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday.

“During our time here, we came in and we were taught from the very beginning … that we couldn’t just come in and be A&T students,” he said. “We had a moral obligation to be a part of change and to be actively involved in the fight for justice.”

“Our survival is dependent on our commitment to the movement, to organizing and to making the world a better place,” said Vandergrift, the most recently serving of the four presidents, who works as a social impact manager for MTV Entertainment Studios.  “Young people are ready to move forward and take up space. So that means there has to be space for them to sit down. And young people: Take that space. Take it, every single time. Any room that you can get into, go.”

“It’s so important to remember that resolution, discovery and innovation happen when we all come to the table,” said Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr. “In many ways, this event represents a time of transition. The A&T Four charted the pathway so that we may walk forward.”

Martin presented the university’s 2023 Human Rights Medals to Chance D. Lynch, a lawyer whose work on high-profile civil rights cases has received national recognition, and Safiya U. Noble, Ph.D., interim director of the University of California Los Angeles DataX Initiative and founder and director of the UCLA Center on Race and Digital Justice. The medal is given by the university to recognize individuals who have endeavored to correct social injustice and contribute significantly to the betterment of the world.

The program concluded with the laying of memorial wreaths for McCain, who died in January 2014, and Richmond, who died in December 1990, at the February One monument on campus with another performance by the N.C. A&T Fellowship Gospel Choir. A social justice discussion followed at Harrison Auditorium.

Media Contact Information: jtorok@ncat.edu

All News