30 July 2007
Greensboro Four Pilgrimage
I am a pilgrim person. I love the journey of life and the opportunity to seek God and God's graces along the way. Fortunately, as one of the authors for The Upper Room's series The Way of Pilgrimage, I get to be a pilgrim guide for them sometimes.
Earlier this month, I guided some youth who attended the United Methodist youth conference Youth 2007 in Greensboro, NC, through a pilgrimage retracing the steps of the Greensboro Four.
It's a beautiful story of four men who were tired, so they decided to take a walk. It was February 1, 1960. The American Civil Rights Movement experienced a peak in the 1950's with the very successful boycott of the buses in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955 and the efforts to integrate high schools in 1957 with the Little Rock (Ark.) Nine. Then there was a lull for a few years until the Greensboro Four.
Four teenagers in their freshman year at North Carolina A & T University (NC A&T) walked to the other part of town and sparked a national sit-in movement when they sat down at the lunch counter of the F.W. Woolworth store and asked for coffee, an unprecedented act for African Americans who were not allowed to be served. Their names are Ezell Blair, Jr. (now called Jibreel Khazan), Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond.
The men walked into Woolworth through the "colored entrance," took the escalator up to the floor where the lunch counter was located, walked to the back of the store and sat down at the counter--two on each side of an elderly white woman. The woman leaned over to them and said she was disappointed in them . . . for not doing it sooner. Much to their surprise, she let them know she was proud and they received great encouragement.
They needed her words because many unkind words followed. For months they returned with other students, peacefully protesting as they sat at the counter. People harassed them--pouring food and hot coffee on their heads, calling them names, threatening them, putting out cigarettes on their heads. But the students--black and white--refused to fight back, incorporating the spirit of nonviolence learned by Martin Luther King, Jr.'s studies of Mahatma Gandhi's sit-in movement and the teachings of Jesus.
So at Youth '07, I guided several pilgrimages each day to walk the mile from NC A&T to the Woolworth store where the sit-in movement began. Along the way, we made many stops:
Stop 1: At the A&T campus, they have a statue of the Four walking. We began here and thought about what it would have been like to boldly step out and make a difference.
Stop 2: Greensboro's railroad tracks brought industry and money to the city. It's also the tracks that separated whites and blacks. If you visit you'll notice that the historically black colleges are located on one side of the tracks still and the historically white colleges are located on the other side of the tracks still. So the Four literally had to cross the tracks to get where they were going. We talked here about the boundaries and "tracks" we create in our neighborhoods, our nation and (since they were high school students) even our school cafeterias. And we reflected on how to cross those tracks. We went through the "tunnel" underneath the track.
Stop 3: The Greensboro News & Record covered the stories of the sit-in movement (called Greensboro Daily Record at the time). At the newspaper's offices, we talked about the importance of news in learning about injustices and the many different (and sometimes annoying) things the news chooses to cover--from Paris Hilton and TomKat to genocide in Darfur and displaced Hurricane Katrina victims.
Stop 4: We stopped at the beginning of February One Place, a street right before Woolworth that honors the Greensboro Four. We walked silently up this street.
Stop 5: F.W. Woolworth--the infamous department store with the segregated lunch counter. In July, when the counter finally was integrated, the manager of this particular store invited the black employees to be the first to serve at this integrated counter. Here, we looked at photographs and drank cold water as we reflected on what it means to be worthy of a cup of cold water. During one special pilgrimage, we happened to get there at the same time as the museum director and the mayor! So the director let our group of 51 people go inside and sit at what was left of the counter and see what they plan to do with the museum when it is complete. What a treat! For more info visit the International Civil Rights Center and Museum.
Stop 6: Center City Park, in the heart of Greensboro, celebrates Greensboro's history and diversity. On the wall of the park, there is a quote spoken nearly 100 years prior to the movement of the Greensboro Four. It is powerful:
"Let hate and prejudice have no place here. Elevate yourselves, but pull nobody down. Go for the education and progress mankind without regard to race or color and invite all to come forward and assist in the development of our common country."
~Thomas Settle, North Caroline Supreme Court Justice
At Center City Park, we debriefed our journey and shared in a body prayer.
*All photographs by Mike Dubose (United Methodist News Service)