Courage Cast in Bronze
Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2001
GREENSBORO -- They were young, ordinary men that day in February 1960.
But by sitting down at a segregated Woolworth's lunch counter, Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, Jibreel Khazan (formerly Ezell Blair Jr.) and the late David Richmond inspired sit-in movements across the South and people across the nation.
"Great people don't always know that what they are doing at the time will later be perceived as something great," said Ron McNeil, Joseph McNeil's son. "They weren't great at the time, but they had courage."
That courage was immortalized Friday when N.C. A&T leaders unveiled a 10-foot statue of the men, who have become known as the "Greensboro Four," outside the university's Dudley Memorial Building. The unveiling was part of a daylong celebration to honor the 42nd anniversary of the landmark civil rights sit-in.
A&T also honored civil rights leaders Vincent Harding and Rosemarie Freeney-Harding on Friday with the university's annual human rights medal.
Harding, a religion and social transformation professor at the University of Denver, and his wife were recognized for their work in the Southern Freedom movement. Harding was the founding director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center in Atlanta in 1968. Both continue to be active in movements for peace and justice worldwide.
Hundreds of people gathered at a breakfast and later at the emotional unveiling of "February One" to hear A&T leaders, Ron McNeil, the three surviving Greensboro Four members and Richmond's son, David, speak.
As students think about the legacy of the Greensboro Four, they should also wonder what their legacy will be one day, Ron McNeil said.
"A great Indian leader once said, 'Be the change that you wish to see in the world,'" McNeil said. "If you see something you don't like in this world, you change it."
The actions of the Greensboro Four 42 years ago have allowed people to embrace their futures ever since, he said.
The statue, sculpted by A&T art professor James Barnhill, brought tears to Joseph McNeil's eyes when it was unveiled. "It's a magnificent sculpture," he said, as he glanced up at his younger self.
Richmond also fought back tears when he saw his father's image, mounted above the crowd. "He would like it, like I do," he said.
Chancellor James Renick conceived the idea for the statue about a year ago. It took Barnhill about nine months to complete the piece.
McCain said he wants people to see the statue as "an act of faith ... representing the will and passion to be free," and as "hope for a beloved and united community."
But all three of the surviving men said their hope is that the sculpture serves as a reminder that change is possible.
After the ceremony, it seemed their hope was already taking shape.
Timothy Morgan and Je'Barra Eason, first-graders at Napoleon B. Smith Seventh Day Adventist Academy, crept around the statue to look at the real men and then to peer up at their bronze doubles.
"They said, 'I wasn't going to move,'" Je'Barra whispered.
"They did it so other people can eat, too," Timothy whispered back.
"And so that it would be fair," Je'Barra said.
N.C. A&T on Friday unveiled a monument honoring members of the Greensboro Four. The 10-foot statue depicts Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, Jibreel Khazan (formerly Ezell Blair Jr.) and the late David Richmond. (Jerry Wolford/ ŠNews & Record)