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.