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Many of us often despair because of fewer people than we expect or need take part in demonstrations, acts for social justice, or workplace rights. I’m often asked how do we get more people involved? Why won’t more people participate?

At workshops and trainings that I facilitate, I lead a discussion on this important question.

But by the end of the discussion, I often tell the story of the Greensboro Four. In 1960, just four African-American freshmen from North Carolina A&T sat down at the segregated Greensboro, NC Woolworth’s store lunch counter and ordered coffee. They were of course denied service. Soon they were attacked by racist mobs. Ketchup, mustard, and sugar were poured in their hair. They were degraded in every way. Still they sat there without reacting, allowing themselves to be abused for their action for justice.

The next day those who sat in swelled and continue to swell day after day.

Then the actions spread to other Woolworth’s in other towns, then to other states.

Eventually, Woolworths had to reverse their policy of segregation and open all their lunch counters across America to all people.

More importantly, the Greensboro Four inspired and helped to move more African-Americans and whites of good will into the Civil Rights Movement and the great struggle for racial justice. Those four 18 or 19 year old young students started another opening and branch in the growing Civil Rights Movement and one of the greatest freedom struggles in American history.

The Greensboro Four were part of a great Mass Movement for racial justice in America. They exercised two of the great prerequisites and elements of mass movement – creativity and spontaneity. They asked permission from no one. They thought of a way that just their group of four could move for justice, and they discovered a creative way they could act.

Then just the four of them acted and helped to change America.

Photo: Former F. W. Woolworth Co. store in Greensboro, North Carolina, the site of a now-famous “sit-in” protest by black college students in 1960.

Photo credit: dbking via Wikimedia Commons
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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