|Youth trace the walk of the Greensboro Four|
United Methodist youth and leaders gather outside the former
Woolworth's in Greensboro, N.C., where four African-American college
students led sit-in protests in 1960 at the "whites only" lunch counter.
The youth retraced the students' one-mile walk to the downtown store as
part of Youth 2007. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.
By Linda Green*
July 26, 2007 | GREENSBORO, N.C. (UMNS)
Ciona Rouse leads the one-mile trek from the campus of North Carolina A&T State University to downtown Greensboro.
United Methodist youth learned about making a difference in the lives
of others by walking in the footsteps of four African-American college
students whose actions in 1960 helped fuel a movement across the South.
Participants in Youth 2007 traced the path of the Greensboro Four —
four male freshmen at North Carolina A&T State University who
protested against racial injustice by organizing a sit-in at the "whites
only" lunch counter of Woolworth's Department Store on Feb. 1, 1960.
While African Americans could shop at the store and use a standup lunch
counter, they were not allowed to sit and be served lunch.
Youth 2007 is the largest youth gathering of The United Methodist
Church and is held once every four years. About 6,200 young people
attended this year's July 11-15 event, sponsored by the United Methodist
Board of Discipleship.
Greensboro provided the backdrop for many of the Youth 2007
participants to learn about the civil rights movement and the courage of
the Greensboro Four.
Groups were bused from the Greensboro Coliseum, which served as the
headquarters of Youth 2007, to the campus of North Carolina A&T
State University to take a one-mile trek to Woolworth's. Standing in
front of "February One," a 10-foot bronze statue memorializing the
Greensboro Four on campus, they heard a history lesson about the four
young people who "stepped out on faith" to make a difference.
"The American civil rights movement was a pilgrimage," said tour leader Ciona Rouse.
The four students were also inspired to action by Emmett Till, a
14-year-old African-American boy from Chicago who had been killed in
Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Till's mother
insisted that her son's casket be open at his funeral so that people
could view his battered and bloated body. Photographs taken by Jet magazine of Till's unrecognizable face shocked America and led people to take action.
After hatching their plan in a dormitory room of the all-black
university, the four students — David Richmond, Franklin McClain, Ezell
Blair Jr. (Jibreel Khazan) and Joseph McNeil — put on their best clothes
and walked to the downtown Woolworth's. They made small purchases and
kept their receipts to show they were indeed customers, then sat at the
lunch counter and were denied service. Police were unable to arrest them
without provocation and the store closed early.
"Pilgrims pray with their feet. We are constantly on a journey, seeking God along the way and seeking those holy moments."
The protests occurred for nearly six months and the young men
continued to walk across the railroad tracks into town, where the
sit-ins extended to the Kress 5 & 10 lunch counter a half-block
away. As their mission gained attention, they were joined by other
students from their school and other area colleges, drawing increasing
opposition and taunts from whites. On July 26, 1960, Woolworth's
officially integrated its lunch counter.
The sit-ins became a hallmark of the peaceful strategy of the civil
rights movement. Coverage by local and national news organizations
helped to galvanize sit-in protests in 54 other cities across the United
States, eventually leading to the integration of parks, swimming pools,
theaters and libraries. It also contributed to calls for equality in
housing, health care and education.
More than tourists
Youth participants said they were not merely being tourists as they walked through downtown Greensboro to Woolworth's.
A teen follows footsteps on a sidewalk memorial to the Greensboro Four.
They stopped at various intervals to "notice God and celebrate" and
to pay attention to the steps they were taking. They were invited to
think about how God can call young people to step out in faith "to
demand justice and equality" when the outcome is unclear.
"Pilgrims pray with their feet. We are constantly on a journey,
seeking God along the way and seeking those holy moments," said Rouse,
an author for the Upper Room, a division of the United Methodist Board
of Discipleship. She joined Upper Room staff members to unveil the "Way
of Pilgrimage," new experiential spiritual formation curriculum for
senior high youth and college freshmen from the Upper Room Ministries.
"We can really make a difference if we think about God guiding our
steps," said Rouse, adding that injustice is also part of life today.
"As pilgrims today, we are looking at the story of God working in the
lives of the Greensboro civil rights movement," Rouse said. "… It is an
amazing story. … We are people of story. The biblical story narrates
our lives and the course of history narrates our lives in different ways
The journey led to railroad tracks that once segregated the city.
Standing in a narrow passageway beneath the track running above the
city, the youth were asked to think about the tracks of their own lives —
things that separate and divide. The trek also included a stop at the
entrance of the Greensboro News & Record, site of the former Greensboro Daily Record newspaper that covered the sit-ins.
Mary Lynne DeToni-Hill (left) and her
mother, Joyce DeToni-Hill, pause for reflection at the Greensboro Four statue.
At the former Woolworth's, which is now an international civil rights
museum, the museum director allowed some youth to sit on the lunch
stools. The lunch counter itself is on display at the Smithsonian
Institution in Washington. "We thought about today and how we can serve
and be served," Rouse said.
Outside the Woolworth's, a series of footprints on a sidewalk plaque
retraces the steps of the Greensboro Four. Youths were asked to place
their feet on the prints and meditate on what they could do to make the
world better for others.
The pilgrimages ended at the Center City Park, where each group
debriefed and individuals were encouraged to express themselves.
Responses ranged from amazement at what the four students accomplished
to personal empowerment about their own potential for inspiring change.
"We are connected to the biblical stories and to one another," said
one youth in a large debriefing circle. Another said the pilgrimage
allowed her to "see things from a different lens."
Joyce DeToni-Hill of Sterling, Colo., was on the tour with her
family. "I was born when these guys did this," she said. "It is
interesting how an era can mark you."
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Upper Room
The Greensboro Four
North Carolina A&T State University
Division on Ministries with Young People
United Methodist Board of Discipleship