UNCG Campus Weekly

Campus Weekly is published each Wednesday when classes are in session. In the summer, it is published biweekly.

A Sit-Ins Celebration

020310Feature3_WoolworthsA lot of events will mark Black History Month. The month began bright and early Feb. 1 with a ribbon-cutting at the historic Woolworth’s on Elm Street.

Due to the snowstorm, UNCG was closed that day. The march from UNCG to Woolworth’s, scheduled for noon, was cancelled. But a number of individuals from UNCG were able to attend the 8 a.m. ceremony dedicating the new International Civil Rights Center and Museum. It is located where four African-American college students began a sit-in at a whites-only lunch counter, which sparked similar protests throughout the South.

“The work begun in this building is unfinished,” Gov. Beverly Purdue said. “The work goes on.” Museum founders and elected officials were joined by three of the surviving four students.

As the ribbon was cut, some in the large crowd spontaneously and briefly shouted “Aggie Pride! Aggie Pride!” It was a reminder that the four freshmen who launched the sit-in at the Elm Street Woolworth’s lunch counter were NC A&T freshmen. Most everyone in attendance, it seemed, on that Feb. 1 day – the 50th anniversary of the day the freshmen began the sit-in – was an Aggie in spirit.

“It was a very special event,” UNCG Chancellor Linda P. Brady said, noting that Provost Perrin attended as well. “I was incredibly moved by Franklin McCain’s remarks, and his charge to all of us to continue the fight for equal opportunity and justice,” she said. McCain was one of the four students who requested service at the lunch counter, exactly 50 years earlier. “Closing my eyes and listening to his voice, I could envision the young NC A&T student who had the courage to stand up for what is right in the face of tremendous odds.”

Mike Tarrant, UNCG’s special assistant for federal relations, serves as the university’s primary liaison with federal elected and appointed officials. He had arrived early to get a good view at the “joyous occasion … an historic moment for the community as a whole,” and he was also moved by McCain’s remarks, one line in particular: “Don’t ever request permission to start a revolution, because people don’t like change.”

Dr. Tara Green, director of the African American Studies program, reflected how everyone had stood huddled together in the cold, joined in unity to see the opening of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum.

“I want students to remember that students started a movement that civil rights leaders, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., found inspirational. I want them to know that they too can inspire those how have come before them. I want them to think about the meaning of Dr. Franklin McCain’s words, “Don’t wait for the masses.”

Dr. Spoma Jovanovik, associate professor of communication students, braved the cold as well. “It was great, exciting, inspiring and historic, wasn’t it?”

She reflected on the new center and museum. “I’m so happy that our community was able to pull together, secure the necessary financial resources, and finally pay proper tribute to the work of students in this city to launch a major social change initiative. … What the Greensboro Four did in 1960 ought to be the model for what we do today to challenge unfair practices wherever they exist.”

Jovanovik called attention to three of the UNCG students she saw there: Zim Ugochukwu, Kaira Wagoner and Alex Babic. They carry the same torch. “Zim, Kaira and Alex are devoted to efforts to support the International Civil Rights Museum, encourage the full support of the City Council to use the findings of the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report, and make global connections to local concerns … Those are important and noble pursuits.”

Kwadjo Steele, assistant athletic director for student welfare, picked up on that point, as he reflected on the event honoring the courage of the four A&T freshmen. “These were students! It shows the potential of these young people we work with every day.”

Visual: A moment after the ribbon-cutting, Mike Tarrant (center, right) speaks with associates. Around 3,000 were estimated to be in attendance, according to one news source.