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How it Originated: Joseph McNeil's Story, Part I


Ezell Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, and David Richmond, the four students who began the Greensboro Sit-in, started school at North Carolina A&T in the fall of 1959. They spent evenings talking about the condition of African Americans in the United States and the need to take action. David Richmond, recalls that "We challenged each other, really. We constantly heard about all the evils that are occurring and how blacks are mistreated and nobody was doing anything about it. . . . We used to question, 'Why is it that you have to sit in the balcony? Why do you have to ride in the back of the bus?'" In this interview conducted in 1979, Joseph McNeil gives his own account of how they came to act.


Eugene Pfaff: What sort of things happened that night of January 31 [1960] that acted as an immediate catalyst? Was there anyone who suggested, "All right, this is what we should do, let's do it." That sort of thing?

Joseph McNeil: Well, if you go back to the idea of how the whole sit-ins originated, I don't think any one person, certainly not any one person, can say, "Well, this is my baby, and this is the way I ran with this thing" or did this or that.

From my own point of view, before going to college, we had talked about doing sit-in-type things; subsequently, my reading tells me that they were doing sit-in-type things someplace else [the NAACP Youth Council of Oklahoma City took steps to end lunch counter segregation in August, 1958]. The concept was probably—you know, it's not a seed that was born in somebody's mind in the sixties. What led us, I guess, in acting that particular night was that we met, we talked, and we discussed the need to do something like this. I had previously met a fellow named Ralph Johns, who said he would be helpful to us if we would do something like this.

EP: What role did he play in the instigation of the sit-ins?

JM: He played—Ralph was a good guy. He was a good guy to lean on. He also was a local business man in the community and he knew various things that, perhaps, we didn't know then. He would, perhaps, have the press connections that we didn't have; something of that nature. He was also an adult, and we were—you know.

EP: Did you have a series of meetings with him, or was this a one-time conversation?

JM: It was not the case where we had a series of meetings or anything like that, and I don't think it was a one-time conversation; I think it was something that we talked about in passing.


Interview with Joseph McNeil, October 14, 1979, Greensboro VOICES, University Libraries, University of NC at Greensboro. [].