Civil rights sit-in pioneer Franklin McCain dies

RALEIGH, N.C. — Franklin McCain, who helped spark a movement of nonviolent sit-in protests across the South by occupying a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in 1960, has died, his son said Friday. He was 73.

McCain died of respiratory complications late Thursday, Frank McCain of Greensboro said Friday.

Franklin McCain was one of four freshmen students from North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro who sat down at the local “whites only” lunch counter on Feb. 1, 1960.

“The best feeling of my life,” McCain said in a 2010 interview with The Associated Press, was “sitting on that dumb stool.”

“I felt so relieved,” he added. “I felt so at peace and so self-accepted at that very moment. Nothing has ever happened to me since then that topped that good feeling of being clean and fully accepted and feeling proud of me.”

McCain, Joseph McNeil, David Richmond and Ezell Blair Jr. (now known as Jibreel Khazan) planned their surprise action carefully. They bought school supplies and toiletries so that their receipts would offer proof that the lunch counter was the only part of the store where racial segregation still ruled.

The young men stayed until the store closed, but returned the next day and subsequent days. They were joined by more protesters, whose numbers built to at least 1,000 by the fifth day. Within weeks, sit-ins launched in more than 50 cities in nine states. The Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro was desegregated within six months.

The sit-in led to the formation in Raleigh of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which became the cutting edge of the student direct-action civil rights movement. The demonstrations between 1960 and 1965 helped pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

“To the world, he was a civil rights pioneer who, along with his three classmates, dared to make a difference by starting the sit-in movement,” McCain’s family said in a prepared statement. “To us, he was ‘Daddy’ – a man who deeply loved his family and cherished his friends.”

McCain graduated in 1964, became a research chemist and sales executive, and moved to Charlotte. His wife of 48 years, Bettye, died a year ago. He served on his alma mater’s board of trustees, then spent four years on the governing board of the 17-campus University of North Carolina system. His term on the public university board ended last year.

“What I think people should remember most about Franklin is that his courage and commitment to doing what was right didn’t end at Woolworth’s,” said state university system president Tom Ross, who grew up in Greensboro. “That commitment continued throughout his life, and he channeled it in ways that really mattered, particularly in his service and devotion to our university and to higher education.”

Richmond died in 1990. McNeil is now 71 and Khazan is 72, said Steffany Reeve, a spokeswoman for the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, which occupies the former Woolworth’s store.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Photo by Kira Erickson/South Whidbey Record
Freeland resident Kevin Lungren has been commuting to the office using his paddleboard. It's a commute he can do in all seasons and just about any type of weather, except wind.
Whidbey commuter paddleboards his way to work in all seasons

The financial advisor says he’s only fallen off his board twice in the past five years.

Photo by Heather Mayhugh
Stuart Peeples demonstrates how to enter Heather Mayhugh's wheelchair van. In recent months, while navigating the new Mukilteo ferry terminal, Mayhugh has struggled to unload her clients who need access to the restroom.
For some, Mukilteo’s new ferry terminal aggravates challenges

Many disabled folks say not enough thought went into improving the facility’s accessibility problems.

Parts of Snohomish County under weekend heat advisory

Monroe and areas of the county near the Cascades were expected to see highs in the 90s.

Marysville man wins $100,000 in military vaccine lottery

Carmen S., who served in the Vietnam War, claimed his $100,000 cash prize this week.

Tirhas Tesfatsion (GoFundMe) 20210727
State AG says it can’t investigate Lynnwood Jail death

Tirhas Tesfatsion’s family pushed Lynnwood leaders for an independent inquiry. Her death was ruled a suicide.

The growing business district along 172nd Street NE in Arlington, looking west toward I-5. At lower left is the construction site of the new Amazon fulfillment center. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald)
Marysville-Arlington road improvements won’t happen at once

Traffic improvement projects near the Cascade Industrial Center will take shape over the next decade.

2 men get prison time for stabbing stranger at Everett motel

The pair both pleaded guilty to manslaughter for the stabbing in 2019.

3 Monroe teachers awarded $185 million for chemical exposure

Chemical giant Monsanto was ordered to pay Sky Valley Education Center teachers in the first of many lawsuits.

Terry Boese, owner of Wicked Teuton Brewing Company, says he wishes his beard was longer so he could dress up as a wizard for a Harry Potter trivia night happening later this month. The brewer and the library are teaming up to offer two Booktoberfest trivia events, starting Thursday. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times
Oak Harbor’s big-bearded Wicked Teuton brewer killed in crash

Terry Boese, a self-proclaimed “proud zymurgist,” was well-known in the North Whidbey beer scene.

Most Read