Organization of American Historians Erik Barnouw Award Honorable Mention Recipient In one remarkable day, four college freshmen changed the course of American history.
February One tells the inspiring story surrounding the 1960 Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins that revitalized the Civil Rights Movement and set an example of student militancy for the coming decade. This moving film shows how a small group of determined individuals can galvanize a mass movement and focus a nation's attention on injustice. The Greensboro Four, Ezell Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), David Richmond, Franklin McCain and Joseph McNeil, were close friends at North Carolina A&T University before they became political activists.
Two of the four had grown up where segregation was not legal, while another's father was active in the NAACP. They recount how the idea for the sit-in grew out of those late night 'bull sessions' that make college years so rich. Prof. William Chafe helps set the historical context the four young men confronted: the Civil Rights Movement had stalled since the Brown decision and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. On the night of January 31, 1960 the four dared each other to do something that would change the South and their own lives forever. They decided to sit-in at the whites-only lunch counter at Woolworth's in downtown Greensboro the next day.
On February 1st, dressed in their Sunday best, the four men sat down at the lunch counter. Frank McCain remembers that he knew then this would be the high point of his life, "I felt clean...I had gained my manhood by that simple act." The four were refused service; when they did not leave the store the manager closed the lunch counter. In the days that followed they were joined by more students from local Black colleges and a few white students who also sat-in at other lunch counters in Greensboro. Prof. Vincent Harding reminds us that the Civil Rights Movement was the first major social movement to be covered by television news so word of the events in Greensboro spread across the nation like a prairie fire. Within just a few days students were sitting in at lunch counters in fifty-four cities around the South.
Greensboro's civic leadership pressured the President of North Carolina A&T to halt the protests but he counseled the students to follow their own consciences. Finally after months of protests the Woolworth management quietly integrated its lunch counter. The wave of direct action started by the Greensboro Four coalesced in the formation of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the vanguard of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. February One not only fills in one of the most important chapters in the Civil Rights Movement, it reminds us that this was a movement of ordinary people motivated to extraordinary deeds by the need to assert their basic human dignity.
It provides an eloquent argument to today's generation of students that involvement in the politics of our own time is a vital part of any college education. Emmy award-winning filmmaker, educator, and president of Video Dialog Inc., Dr. Steven Channing has produced nationally televised films including This Other Eden and We Remember America's 400th Anniversary. Dr. Channing has also served as a Professor of American History at the University of Kentucky, Visiting Professor at Stanford University, and Research Professor at Johns Hopkins University.
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