The Courage that Changed the World

Unveiling the Past: A Prelude to Courage (The Greensboro Four)

Walking through the doors of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum on a Saturday afternoon, the first thing that caught my attention was a long poster showing the F.W. Woolworth & Co. Building with a caption that read, “What happened here changed the world.” Coming here was a personal quest to understand, with the help of a guide’s narrative and accompanied by physical evidence, a different kind of human struggle and courage. My husband and I had booked online for a two-hour “signature staff-guided tour.” When we got there, we were met by an approachable, laid-back gentleman who asked for our information and then provided us with a paper wristband that we were instructed not to take off until we left the building. We were early for our 2-4 p.m. appointment and so decided to look around before the tour began.

Exploring the Prelude: A Stroll Through History

The reception area took center stage once you entered the building, with two hallways on either side of it. Taking the left hallway, I saw a staircase leading down into what looked like a basement. The staircase had paintings trailing down it, like the pictures lining the walls of Gryffindor’s common room in the Harry Potter movies. On the other side of me were open glass windows with shelves doing a poor job of blocking people’s view of the outside. On one of the shelves, there was something about a Nigerian chief and other small paraphernalia that I had no interest in wasting my time on. I was eager to hear about and see the instruments that changed the world.

At exactly 2 p.m., we returned to the reception. A small group had gathered around our tour guide, whose name I don’t remember, but for the sake of this essay, I would call her Angie. Angie led us back the way we came, but down the stairs. This opened into a very large space that seemed to transport us back to February 1, 1960. It was the restored F.W. Woolworth lunch counter—the diner that started it all, a symbol of a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement’s revival and the dialogue about individual and societal equality in America. It was how Ezell Blair Jr., David Richmond, Franklin McCain, and Joseph McNeil came to be known as the Greensboro 4.

The Birth of Courage: The Greensboro Four’s Stand

The dinner was a traditional American dinner with an open kitchen housing 66 seats of interchangeable teal and orange, neatly arranged around the L-shaped stainless steel lunch counter inside the F. W. Woolworth store, now the International Civil Rights Center and Museum at 132 South Elm Street in Greensboro, North Carolina. Occupying four of these seats were the black freshmen college students of N.C. Agricultural & Technical College who were refused service when they each asked for a cup of coffee and a donut with cream on the side, with the waitress replying, “We do not serve negros here.” “Negroes eat at the other end.” They did not leave their seats, they did not beg to be served, they did not raise their voices or throw their hands, but their simple stance of courage spoke louder than their voices could because, come the next day, more than twenty black students would show up for a sit-in. They were not deterred when they were also refused service.

But 24 students became 60 the next day.

60 students turned into 300 students.

300 students between the ages of 17, 18, and 19 became 1,400 students from different schools across North Carolina, and so the sit-in spread from Winston-Salem, Durham, Raleigh, Charlotte, Richmond, Virginia, Lexington, Kentucky, and to other states of the United States of America.

“Four young voices!” Angie whispered to us in a dramatic, husky lilt.

A Nigerian in Greensboro: A Journey of Emotion and Connection

In the heart of Greensboro, North Carolina, a city steeped in the history of the American Civil Rights Movement, I found myself immersed in the struggles and triumphs of a people whose courage and resilience transcended borders. Having grown up in a different country, I was unsure how deeply I could connect with a movement that unfolded in a land that was foreign to me.

The walk through the museum was, for me, an emotional journey made more profound by Angie’s passionate narrative. It unfolded like chapters of a gripping novel, revealing the painful journey towards equality and justice undertaken by African Americans in the 20th century. At the center of this narrative were the Greensboro Four, a group of courageous young men whose actions ignited a spark that would endure throughout history.

Bridging Worlds: The Resonance of Brotherhood

The resonance of the Greensboro Four’s struggle rang through the years and across the continents as I stood in front of the lunch counter where they conducted their sit-in protest. I dealt with a wide range of emotions. On the one hand, I felt a deep sense of kinship with these African American pioneers. I understood the common thread of tenacity that connects all people of African origin around the world. On the other hand, I was acutely aware of the huge divide that existed between my own experiences in Nigeria and the brutal realities of those who battled for their rights on American soil.

The Greensboro Four’s resistance to segregation was a beacon of courage that cut beyond geographical lines. It emphasized the universality of humanity’s search for justice and equality. Despite geographical and cultural differences, I couldn’t help but feel a strong bond with the Greensboro Four and the larger Civil Rights Movement. The struggle for fundamental human rights and dignity is universal, regardless of historical or cultural background.

Angie’s Bridge: Narrating the Global Pursuit of Justice

Angie, our tour guide, played a crucial role in bridging the gap between my Nigerian identity and the American Civil Rights Movement. The impassioned storytelling and personal anecdotes she shared painted a vivid picture of the struggles African Americans faced during those turbulent times. As a result of her words, I gained a deeper understanding of the pain, resilience, and triumph that characterized this pivotal moment in American history.

While I may never fully appreciate the complexities of the Civil Rights Movement as someone who did not live through its trials, the museum tour and Angie’s story instilled in me a tremendous appreciation for those who struggled and are still struggling for justice. The brotherhood I felt in that museum and in the telling was more than just a bond between Africans and African Americans; it was a realization of our common humanity and the indomitable spirit that drives the global pursuit of justice.

4 thoughts on “The Courage that Changed the World

  • Ebi Eluma
    1 December 2023 at 13:24

    Interesting Articles.

  • Stanley
    15 December 2023 at 14:05

    Change can come from a few all that is needed is the courage to inspire the move..

  • Patrick Onuh
    23 December 2023 at 22:34

    Great article. Educative

  • Patrick Onuh
    23 December 2023 at 22:35

    Great piece. Informative.

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