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The Greensboro Four

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The following is a revised extract from Chapter 3 of Reversing America's Decline: Jefferson's Remedy (2014)


The only security of liberty in any country is the jealousy and circumspection of the people themselves. Let them be watchful over their rulers. Should the government be found to want amendment, those amendments can be made in a regular method, in a mode prescribed by the Constitution itself.

James Iredell, speaking at the NC convention on July 28, 1788

On February 1, 1960, four students from North Carolina's A&T College ignited the "sit in" movement (and reenergized the civil-rights movement itself). Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Joe McNeil and David Richmond took their seats at a Greensboro, NC, Woolworth's lunch counter. This courageous act inspired the youth of America to produce a vast wave of sit-ins throughout the upper south. The civil-rights movement, reenergized, produced the Civil Rights Act and the ratification of the 24th Amendment -- both in 1964. The "Greensboro Four" had no organizational backing and received no salaries. They made no speeches to thousands of cheering supporters. Instead, they returned day after day to ask for service at a Woolworth lunch counter, were spit upon, had spaghetti sauce poured on their heads -- and changed America for the better.

The road to the Civil Rights Act and the 24th Amendment

Twenty or so more A&T students joined the "Greensboro Four" at the Woolworth lunch counter the following day. They were followed by hundreds more each day until the city closed the store a week later. By then the sit-in "movement" had spread through the upper south. It is estimated that more than 70,000 people "sat in" during the spring, summer and winter of 1960. In April, sit-in activists organized the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The sit-ins, according to Vol. II of Who Built America, "pumped new life into the civil rights movement." [1] In 1964 LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act. The 24th Amendment (which prohibited the denial or abridgement of the right to vote in a federal election because of a failure to pay any poll or other tax) became law during the same year. The Civil Rights Act and the 24th Amendment were made "in a regular method in a mode prescribed by the Constitution."

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Neal Herrick is author of the award-wining After Patrick Henry (2009). His most recent book is (2014) Reversing America’s Decline. He is a former sailor, soldier, auto worker, railroad worker, assistant college football coach, (more...)

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