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Being Anti-racists: Stories from Greensborough Four

The world has become aware of systemic racism in the US, and to the Church, a question is being asked, "What is the Church doing to dismantle racism?" As each of us wants to be agents of positive change, we need to be allies for those working for change. There are two great examples of allies for the stories of Greensborough four.

On February 1, 1960, four freshmen at North Carolina A&T decided to sit down at the Woolworth lunch counter in Greensborough and asked to be served. This action started a firestorm that led to 10 days of protest in Greensborough and more than 45 other lunch counter-protests around the country in the next five years that had more than 70,000 participants. Although they were successful in desegregating the Woolworth counters on July 25, 1960, it took another five years before all lunch counters in the South were available to all people.

In our studies of the Civil Rights Movement, the lunch counter-protest in Greensborough, NC, has been mentioned as one of the catalysts for the desegregation of lunch counters in the South. However, there were countless stories of anti-racists whose participation was important in the movement, but these two truly stand out as work of allies.

On the first day of the protest, the four men sat for three hours, and rather than serving these four men, the store closed early, and servers ignored them. Intimated by the management and police, there was no violence. After a couple of hours, an elderly white woman who had lunch at the other end of the counter came up behind them and put her hand on one of the men's shoulders. The men readied themselves to have racial slurs thrown at them, be spit at, or be assaulted. However, the woman quietly said to the men, "I am just so proud of you. My only regret is that you didn't do this ten or fifteen years ago." The men simply thanked her as she left. Four men found encouragement in the words of an ally.

On the third day of the protest, three white college students from a nearby Women's College heard about the protest and decided that they had to help. Living with white privilege, they never really thought about segregation, but upon thinking about it, they decided that it was wrong and they had to be involved in making it right. They snuck out of their campus - women were not allowed to leave campus without a chaperone - and walked a mile and half to downtown. When they got to Woolworth, they walked through a crowd of about 100 white students who came to harass the protesters and walked to the counter. White males being chivalrous gave up their seats, thus enabling the women to sit next to the protesters. When the waitress came and asked what they wanted, the women said, "There are men who sat down before us, and we believe they should be served first," referring to several African American college students sitting at the counter. They were never served for the next five hours. As the closing time came near, the women worried about what might happen to them when they leave the store. When they stood up, a group of African American men formed a circle around them, arm in arm, and escorted them out to a taxi waiting for them. The women made it back to their campus safely.

Many feel called to lead protests, but that is not everyone. Some of you feel that you are called to be allies, but this does not mean passivity and cheering on the sidelines. Allies must also actively find ways to encourage those who are leading and speak out in our ways in our world.

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