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


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 February 1, 1960.


Eugene Pfaff: What sort of strategy did you devise upon going into the store? Was there any plan that you had as to the course of your actions once you entered the store?

Joseph McNeil: We talked about it the night before—a question-and-answer response, statement and response type of the thing that might take place—and we tried to figure out a response for every possible statement that could be made, or every action that could be taken or directed against us. I think we sort of expected a lot of things to happen; we saw the possibility of a lot of things happening, and we wanted to be prepared, in that sense.

EP: Could you characterize the responses that did indeed occur between management of the store, the waitresses, or other personnel?

JM: Okay, it's been a while, again, like most of that stuff it's not crystal clear, but I think we went in and we asked for coffee, and we were told that they couldn't serve us and that we'd have to leave. And we told them, "Well"—I think we discussed the fact that they had just finished serving us at a counter across the hall and we purchased toothpaste or something like that. I think that they suggested to one of the black help at the time that they come over and talk to us, and they asked us to leave. They suggested to us that we might be getting ourselves involved in something that's trouble, and that this was something that we might not want to get involved in, and we'd better leave.

EP: What were your feelings as you sat there in the store?

JM: Intense sense of pride, a bit of trepidation.


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