LUMBERTON — With the recent death of Franklin McCain, one of the Greensboro Four, Robeson County lost a friend who understood the problems faced by communities made up of people from different races and cultural backgrounds, according to a former city councilman active in civil rights.
“Mr. McCain encouraged every audience to strive toward making a difference in the lives of mankind,” said Douglas McMillan Jr.
McCain and three other black college students made national headlines on Feb. 1, 1960, when they sat down at a whites-only counter in a Greensboro Woolworth’s and waited to be served. Their peaceful “sit-in” sparked similar events across the South that helped trigger the civil rights movement.
McCain, 72 when he died, graduated from North Carolina A&T in 1964, and worked for a chemical company, the Celanese Corp., in Charlotte for almost 35 years. He also served as a member of the UNC System’s Board of Governors.
McMillan said that McCain had ties to Lumberton, having become close friends with the late Lonnie Revels, a Lumberton native who was a city councilman in Greensboro.
“He had knowledge of the diversity that exists in Robeson County,” McMillan said. “The issues that we face here are no different then those faced in other parts of the country.”
McMillan said that he spoke with McCain two years ago at an annual celebration held at the nonprofit International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro commemorating the action taken by the Greensboro Four. The museum is located in the old Woolworth’s building where the sit-in took place.
The museum reportedly posted on its site a tribute to McCain and the other three members of the Greensboro Four for their “courageous act (that) marked a turning point in the struggle for equality that continues to this day.”
McMillan said that during his conversation with McCain, he asked McCain to come to Robeson County and speak with Robesonians about civil rights issues.
“During our conversation he indicated his desire to come to Robeson County,” McMillan said.
In addition to McCain, the other three members of the Greensboro Four include Joseph McNeil, a retired major general in the Air Force Reserves, Jibreel Khazan, then known as Ezell A. Blair Jr., and David Richmond. According to the Greensboro News & Record, Richmond died in 1990 at age 49.