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Oral history interview with Joseph McNeil by Eugene Pfaff


Date: October 14, 1979

Interviewee: Joseph McNeil

Biographical abstract: Joseph A. McNeil (1942- ) was one of four students from North Carolina A&T State University to stage a sit-in for desegregation at the F. W. Woolworth store in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960.

Interviewer: Eugene E Pfaff

Description:

In this transcript of an October 14, 1979, oral history interview conducted by Eugene Pfaff with Joseph McNeil, McNeil discusses the motivations and preparations of the Greensboro Four for the February 1, 1960, sit-in at Woolworth’s. In addition to describing race relations and demonstrations in Greensboro, McNeil specifically notes the contributions of Bennett College students and Ralph Johns to the city’s sit-ins. He also discusses his personal leadership role in the movement, and the effect that this involvement has had on his life.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: GreensboroVOICES Collection

Repository: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Item#: 1.10.555

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Civil Rights Greensboro and the appropriate repository.



Oral history interview with Joseph McNeil by Eugene Pfaff

[Begin Tape 1, Side A]

EUGENE PFAFF:

Our interview today is with Joseph McNeil, who, along with David Richmond, Ezell Blair [Jr.] [known now as Jibreel Khazan], and Franklin McCain, conducted the first sit-in of the F.W. Woolworth Company in Greensboro, North Carolina, on February 1, 1960. These four freshmen from the Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro, now known as the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University [A&T], began a protest movement of segregated lunch counters that spread quickly throughout the South, resulting in the desegregation of hundreds of eating establishments. This began the student phase of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and many historians consider this act to be the beginning of the modern civil rights movement. I'd like to welcome you, Mr. McNeil, to the Greensboro Oral History Program.

JOSEPH MCNEIL:

Thank you.

EP:

I'd like to begin by asking you what factors motivated you and the other three men to test segregated policies in Greensboro at Woolworth's?

JM:

Factors?

EP:

Family background. Individual incidents that happened in your life.

JM:

I think each of us had grown up under a dual policy educational system. We were all raised in the South, and we all came up under the time when public accommodations were generally refused blacks. I think, perhaps, we all had been refused service in one form or fashion—either at restaurants, hotels—the use of restroom facilities. It was just a number of things that would call to mind that we needed to do something about.

EP:

At least one history of the sit-ins has suggested that, in part, one contributing factor was a refusal of service to you at the Greensboro bus terminal in December. Did that have a factor or—

JM:

Yeah, you know, as I think back, I think that was probably one of the many straws on the camel's back. But, also if you look at the Little Rock school thing [1957 desegregation], and the fact that there were people there doing something about the problem—and to do something was a need.

EP:

How did the four of you come to know one another?

JM:

We were freshmen at A&T College at the time, and I think we were all in the same college algebra class, or at least a good number of us, and others of us—well, we lived on the same floor of the dormitory, too. And we gravitated and found some things in common—talked, discussed many things, I guess.

EP:

In these discussions, what sort of focus was there? Was it a local or national focus?

JM:

It would probably have to be national in scope in terms of the things that we discussed—problems in the world, and then reducing those problems down to the level where they directly affected us.

EP:

Did you have any sense of the nature of race relations in Greensboro at that time? Were they truly progressive, or was it more or less a progressive image that disguised a paternalism and a resistance to change?

JM:

I didn't perceive, myself, race relations in Greensboro as being radically different from any other location in the South. Certainly, the demonstrative things that you see in race relations were the same: separate water fountains, certainly in the public accommodations area—the things that hit you right out in front were no different.

EP:

What sort of things happened that night of January 31 [1960] that acted as an immediate catalyst? Was there anyone who suggested, "All right, this is what we should do, let's do it." That sort of thing?

JM:

Well, if you go back to the idea of how the whole sit-ins originated, I don't think any one person, certainly not any one person, can say, “Well, this is my baby, and this is the way I ran with this thing” or did this or that.

From my own point of view, before going to college, we had talked about doing sit-in-type things; subsequently, my reading tells me that they were doing sit-in-type things someplace else [the NAACP Youth Council of Oklahoma City took steps to end lunch counter segregation in August, 1958]. The concept was probably—you know, it's not a seed that was born in somebody's mind in the sixties. What led us, I guess, in acting that particular night was that we met, we talked, and we discussed the need to do something like this. I had previously met a fellow named Ralph Johns, who said he would be helpful to us if we would do something like this.

EP:

What role did he play in the instigation of the sit-ins?

JM:

He played—Ralph was a good guy. He was a good guy to lean on. He also was a local business man in the community and he knew various things that, perhaps, we didn't know then. He would, perhaps, have the press connections that we didn't have; something of that nature. He was also an adult, and we were—you know.

EP:

Did you have a series of meetings with him, or was this a one-time conversation?

JM:

It was not the case where we had a series of meetings or anything like that, and I don't think it was a one-time conversation; I think it was something that we talked about in passing.

EP:

What sort of strategy did you devise upon going into the store? Was there any plan that you had as to the course of your actions once you entered the store?

JM:

We talked about it the night before—a question-and-answer response, statement and response type of the thing that might take place—and we tried to figure out a response for every possible statement that could be made, or every action that could be taken or directed against us. I think we sort of expected a lot of things to happen; we saw the possibility of a lot of things happening, and we wanted to be prepared, in that sense.

EP:

Could you characterize the responses that did indeed occur between management of the store, the waitresses, or other personnel?

JM:

Okay, it's been a while, again, like most of that stuff it's not crystal clear, but I think we went in and we asked for coffee, and we were told that they couldn't serve us and that we'd have to leave. And we told them, “Well”—I think we discussed the fact that they had just finished serving us at a counter across the hall and we purchased toothpaste or something like that. I think that they suggested to one of the black help at the time that they come over and talk to us, and they asked us to leave. They suggested to us that we might be getting ourselves involved in something that's trouble, and that this was something that we might not want to get involved in, and we'd better leave.

EP:

What were your feelings as you sat there in the store?

JM:

Intense sense of pride, a bit of trepidation.

EP:

Did you anticipate either arrest or attack?

JM:

Certainly arrest. I thought that we might get arrested the first day, but didn't know.

EP:

Was there anything said to you by other patrons in the store, or did the police come into the store or anything of that nature?

JM:

On that particular day, I can't remember any patrons saying anything. I think that the police may have showed up; it was pretty near closing time. The police may have showed up, but I just can't remember.

EP:

Did you continue sitting there, or was there on-going dialogue with any the members of the store management or anything of that nature?

JM:

I think there was a dialogue; I just can't recall all of the words. It was not an argumentative-type thing; certainly not a loud-type thing.

EP:

What happened once you left the store and returned to campus? Was there any sort of harassment before you got to the campus?

JM:

No, no, not at all.

EP:

What were your actions upon reaching the campus?

JM:

I think we felt the need to get others involved in what we were doing. I can't recall who we talked to first, but—

EP:

The newspaper at the time indicates that the Student Executive Committee for Justice was formed—

JM:

Okay.

EP:

—that evening or shortly thereafter.

JM:

Okay.

EP:

Did you have a participative role in the forming of that committee?

JM:

Most certainly, yes. One of the things that became clear to us was the need to get other forms of what we perceived to be campus leadership involved. We went to various elements of the college community where we thought there was leadership potential—the Student Government, the Air Force and the Army ROTC [Reserve Officers' Training Corps] programs, the football team, the college newspaper—and solicited help, and it was forthcoming.

EP:

Were the students that went the next day, approximately twenty-six I believe the newspaper indicates, was that a spontaneous or a planned—

JM:

That was pretty much spontaneous, totally. We saw the interest of it—and it was spontaneous.

EP:

Were you surprised by this response?

JM:

Not necessarily. I think that once people saw what we were doing—you know it was hoped that others would join us, okay. At least we really hoped that, but it wasn't any planned thing to do; you couldn't predict who was going to join or anything like that.

EP:

Were you surprised with the speed which it spread to other cities in North Carolina and to other states in the South?

JM:

Positively surprised by that and extremely encouraged. I think that was the thing that sort of got our initial momentum—the complete spontaneity of everything in other cities.

EP:

Did you ever speak personally or as a representative of the committee [Student Executive Committee for Justice] to the administration of A&T?

JM:

No. That's actually a funny one. We had obviously had an on-going dialogue with various members of the administration. It was important to have this type of dialogue because the administration, I guess, was subjected to various types of pressures to keep us in line, cool it down, to maybe stop the sit-ins altogether.

EP:

Was there ever any sense that they tried to act in this role?

JM:

None whatsoever. I—at least, none that I can recall. We pretty much were able to go about and do things as we saw fit. We attended classes; we saw the need to continue going to class, and as long as we did that—it was not really a question of the administration taking any actions against us. We were acting in our own spare time, free time. The administration, if anything, was cooperative in our efforts.

EP:

Did you retain a leadership role? I mean, you yourself and the other three men?

JM:

Yes, we did in various ways. It was felt that our movement was not going to be a one-man movement for a number of reasons. One, we still felt responsibilities as students to try to get an education, and involvement in the demonstrations was extremely time-consuming. Two, we felt that we didn't want to have one person particularly isolated so that they could be subjected to particular pressures. Three, we had an awful lot of talent, and there was really no reason for one person to try to hog the show. We'd send somebody when there was a speaking engagement to talk to Woolworth's or to participate in some activity there, we'd send an individual there, and somebody else would go to a SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] meeting and—

EP:

Did you go on any of these activities?

JM:

I did on occasion, and Blair did—a number of people who were not, not the original four—and that was the idea, to get as much involvement, as well as involvement as possible.

EP:

Do you feel that you, as the original four, were semi-swallowed up by the size of this movement?

JM:

Certainly, it was not a movement with our identity; it was a community movement, it's so important to understand that. After the initiation of the sit-ins, the “four freshmen” were more or less symbolic, because it certainly became a community movement. The high school students, Bill Thomas and his group, became involved and became extremely active. They carried the movement during the summer when the college kids were not there. The community leaders, the churches, the local NAACP—[National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] George Simkins and his fellows were extremely important in sustaining the movement, local attorneys, the McKissicks and Pearsons, who came by and offered their services.

EP:

Did you attend the meeting at Shaw where SNCC was formed in Raleigh at Shaw University?

JM:

Junior Boyd was elected to go to that meeting and he participated in the formation of that, so we tried to spread things around.

EP:

Do you recall any of the individuals who would have been leaders in this committee—the Student Executive Committee for Justice?

JM:

Oh, there were so many: there's Freddie Jones, Lewis Brandon, who has always been so very active. In student government, I guess, was Charles Deboro [?]. On the ROTC side, we had Kent Talley, who is a pilot now; he went up to New York on one occasion to participate with some labor support up in that area. There are just so many names that I feel badly because I am forgetting some.

EP:

I get the sense that the committee, the student body of A&T, met with people all over the country, and it very quickly ceased to be just a localized activity. Is that correct?

JM:

Well, no, because we were a local movement, but we were getting responses on a nationwide basis. Woolworth's was in fact a national company; pressure on Woolworth was to provide accommodations in the South and in Greensboro were being applied on a nationwide basis. There were selective buying campaigns in New York and Detroit and in other places and we were called on from time to time to send representatives to these areas to explain what in fact we were doing.

EP:

Was it the A&T administration or the students that kept this from being taken over by outside organizations?

JM:

It's pretty much the students and the local community. One of the favorite suggestions of people who were opposed to our efforts was the fact that the sit-ins and any other form of demonstrative protest was organized by “outsiders.” And that was totally untrue, certainly it was untrue in our case.

EP:

Who were some of the organizations that offered their aid or assistance?

JM:

The NAACP provided us with legal assistance, Floyd McKissick and Conrad Pearson were both very active in handling civil rights cases during that period of time. The local NAACP—George Simkins—

EP:

Was CORE [Congress of Racial Equality] involved?

JM:

CORE came in and I think they offered to help us do some organization or something of that nature, and we thanked them for the offer, but indicated to them that we could pretty much do things locally. All we really needed was a couple of signs for pickets, and that was about it. We had the manpower; we had the legal support.

EP:

Did you adopt the nonviolent and Christian overtones of the movement as a tactic or as a generally held belief?

JM:

You'll probably get mixed views on that. Certainly, there were those who embraced it as a Christian belief, but there were also a good many of those who saw it as a extremely practical means, perhaps the only means, a way that we could approach the problem. I don't think that the great majority of us were nonviolent by nature; we were not of the mold of “turn the other cheek.” That is not—these were not ingredients in our upbringing per se, so it took an awful lot of self-restraint to participate in the movement and do that.

EP:

What sort of strategy or tactics were involved? Was it just focusing on Woolworth's and Kress? How was the decision made to include Kress? What sort of decisions were involved?

JM:

Well, after we-well, we chose Woolworth's initially because we thought that they, perhaps, more vulnerable because they were a national firm, and if we could allow this attention for this, that we might get a national response. Kress, I guess, was the same rationale. Also there, after a point, as our numbers grew, it became more practical to think about doing and spreading it in some other area; we had more than enough people to handle a protest movement at Woolworth, so Kress was right down the street, and the other areas that we eventually branched out into.

EP:

What sort of decision-making policy was made? Was it a small group of people within the committee, or was it a broad-based, total participation by the committee in terms of making these various decisions?

JM:

It was both, and it varied at times. Typically, it was a small-based group, and we'd go out and solicit strategies and ideas from various elements of the community: the NAACP, local people on campus, people in the community. “Here's where we are; here's what our options are. Here's what we have to do. What do you think we should do?” We'd get all of these ideas and we'd go back and we'd sit down and say, “Well, all right now, here are the options.” And, you know, we'd have to figure it out in that fashion, instead of sitting back and saying, “All right, we're calling the shots here.” Because it was really a community effort in the true sense of the word.

EP:

What was the role of Edward Zane and his Committee for—on Community Relations?

JM:

I think E.R. Zane's participation in that committee he founded, of which he was a member, as I see it, was the type of committee that says, “Greensboro is thought of,”—at least in some minds—“as a progressive community, an All-American city; there's a problem here that we all recognize that has existed since the sit-ins have come about and it's highlighted this problem. Let's see if we can get the wheels rolling to get it resolved and not tarnish the image of the city.” I mean that's one way of looking at it. Now, I don't know Mr. Zane personally so I don't know what his personal motivations are but—

EP:

Did you participate in the negotiations between his committee, the students at A&T, and the store managers?

JM:

Again, our broad-based participation, there were two other people we felt had skills in negotiating who were selected to do that.

EP:

Do you recall who these individuals were?

JM:

[laughter] I think one was Kent Talley, and surprisingly I can't recall—there was a young lady at Bennett [College], Gloria Brown, I think, who may have also—who was president of the student body at Bennett—who may have been involved in that area of negotiations.

EP:

But you were also one of the negotiators I assume?

JM:

No, I wasn't.

EP:

Were any of the original four the negotiators or in on the negotiations?

JM:

Quite frankly, I can't remember. It may have been McCain or Blair.

EP:

How would you characterize your activities at this time?

JM:

One of continuing to be involved; active support on the picket line; strategy formation; going around and meeting with various members of the community.

EP:

So even though you were freshmen, you were not passed over by the more established leadership?

JM:

Oh certainly not.

EP:

What is your opinion on how the police handled the crowds?

JM:

In the initial stages, things were rough. I think we had instances where people were burned with cigarettes. There was concern on our part. We had concern because we saw the need to continue to be nonviolent, but we didn't want to get wiped out. So, the football team—I think we asked for assistance on their part, a nonviolent show of strength; if things did get out of hand, then we weren't going to get wiped out. I don't think we really felt that. So, the police did adequate jobs at times, but there were times when things broke down. There was an instance at the theatre one night.

EP:

What, what happened then?

JM:

Well, I don't know if they were Klansmen or what, but there were people making lewd gestures at some of the girls who were picketing. And I think there was McCain and myself there, and I think there were four or five girls, and there were about twenty of these people doing that type of thing and things were out of hand, and we had to call for assistance from campus. But, by and large, we communicated with the police; we tried to inform them of what we were going to do and when.

EP:

How broad were the stores and other public facilities that were the objects of demonstrations? The newspaper reported there were at least times when they were at shopping centers like Eckerd's [drug store], shopping centers, the drive-ins. Were theatres included at this time or did they come later?

JM:

I think that came later.

EP:

So the focus was pretty much on the lunch counters in the spring of '60? Is that right?

JM: :

Yeah, yeah.

EP:

Do you think that these other attempts at these other places were as successful as Woolworth's and Kress?

JM:

Certainly successful in the sense that it communicated what we were trying to do, yes. It was not an isolated case of getting one institution to open the counters; we wanted the whole community to respond.

EP:

What did you do in the summer of '60 when the management of Kress and Woolworth agreed to desegregate? Had you gone back home or did you stay in Greensboro?

JM:

Was it the summer of '60?

EP:

According to the newspaper, or the headline of the July twenty-fifth Daily News, announced that Woolworth and Kress were going to open up their lunch counters, and that the local black community did send representatives there, certain number of people per day for the first week. This was at least how it was reported in the newspaper.

JM:

I'm not even really sure when they opened the counters.

EP:

What did you do in the fall of '60? Did you continue in civil rights activities all through your college career?

JM:

Pretty much, to the extent that we were demonstrating against something. I was involved, even up through my senior year; I was getting commissioned in the Air Force in June of '63, and I think I was arrested because of a civil rights demonstration three weeks prior to that, a demonstration that Jesse Jackson was involved in. He was in effect the leader at the time of the movement.

EP:

Were you involved in the sit-down on Greene Street or in the square in June of '63?

JM:

Yes, and at the S&W Cafeteria. Yeah, I was involved. I really had no intentions of becoming arrested at that time, or getting arrested, but I think the emotion of the situation swept me away.

EP:

Now, CORE was in charge of these later activities; were you ever associated in any way with CORE?

JM:

I'm not certain.

EP:

By that, I'm speaking of the local branch that was formed by Bill Thomas.

JM: :

Okay, all right, yes, to that extent, yes.

EP:

Were you a member of CORE or—

JM:

No, no, but I was supportive of Bill. I was not a joiner in any particular sense of the word.

EP:

Were these sporadic or continuous activities from '60, '61, '62, and '63? Was there ongoing activity all this time, or were there just periodic outbursts?

JM:

I think that you would have to call it a continual. There were times when a lull may have developed for one reason or another, but certainly, there was a continuum in terms of the people involved. The same people who were involved in the sixties were also involved in '62, '63, '64, '65, and various degrees in '66 and on.

EP:

I'm interested on the personal affect that your involvement had on yourself? For instance, how did it affect your lives at the time? Were you afforded, more ore less, celebrity status on campus? Were you always acknowledged as one of “The Four?”

JM:

I wouldn't think it would be celebrity status. I think that we were sort of acknowledged as “The Four.”

EP:

Did this put a strain on you?

JM:

No. There was always the strain of the movement, yeah, at times I was often spread very thin.

EP:

But nothing personal about your role as one of what came to be known as “The Greensboro Four?”

JM:

Certainly not in my case. Now, maybe the other guys, it may have had an effect. For example, I think it my have had an effect on Junior Blair [Ezell Blair Jr.], his physical condition, to some degree, but it didn't really—again, I'm trying to remember something from twenty years [laughter]; back then I could, you know.

EP:

The reason I ask this is that it's not uncommon in social protest movements to, more or less, demand or ask of the initiators or the leaders to be, more or less, “living monuments” of—to conform to a certain image or a certain role model in the movement. Was there ever any pressure of this on you?

JM:

No, no, I don't think so. But we were convinced that we didn't want the movement to fail in any way, and there were a lot of people who felt that way. So, to that extent, there was that constant pressure to make this thing work, and we endeavored to do that.

EP:

One assessment of the civil rights movement, beginning with the sit-ins, states that the black community could only gain a voice by going outside of the traditional forms of communications because of the white power structure's control of protest and the completeness with which it was. Would you agree with this assessment or disagree?

JM:

I'd—it certainly seems very valid. One of the things that perhaps dramatically influenced our movement was the development of the video. For the first time—what we did, people knew throughout America that it was wrong all along, but they never did anything about it. But the video started bringing Bull Connor [mayor of Birmingham, Alabama in 1963] and the sit-ins right into their living rooms, and I think it provoked a reaction. So to a very large extent, the video played a role in our success; the newspapers, the media period, did. Certainly, even today, the media is controlled by probably the same people who—forces who controlled them back in those days.

EP:

What sort of pressures are on an individual who so radically defies something as entrenched as racism and segregation?

JM:

Pressures?

EP:

What does it do to the people involved?

JM:

Well, it gives you an intense sense of pride. I don't think you had any martyrs in our group, but certainly that idea was a reality, because it could have happened from a physical point of view. It also could have happened from the point of view that from day one, when we started those sit-ins, we could have been in jail for any length of time; we had no idea, in that regard, but you were willing to pay the dues. “Don't do the crime if you can't do the time.” That type of thing.

We were aware that by being civil-disobedient in that civil sense—that we were breaking or violating certain laws which we felt were unjust; that we might have to go to jail, and we might have to stay in jail; that certain people had made a commitment to help us and keep us out of jail, but failing that, we were going to go. So, it was an intense sense of pride.

EP:

Did it have any effect on your subsequent life? Choice of career? Has the fact that you were one of the initiators of the sit-ins followed you throughout your life?

JM:

Certainly not in that sense, but certainly my involvement in the movement has. I think it has given me a real good sense of pride and confidence. When I was in the military and situations would come about where fear would be involved, it was advantageous for me to have been involved in a movement where I had seen all that before. I had seen the fear before. I had seen the enemies who were there ready to kill me, you know. So it's—and this was true of many of the people, I am sure, who participated in [the] civil rights movement who subsequently were involved in the Southeast Asia conflict; we'd been there before, we'd seen the hatred. We didn't have bulldogs here, but you know—

EP:

Do you think there was a but of that element in the crowd that taunted you and harassed you here in Greensboro?

JM:

—I would bring physical harm, and who wouldn't? I experienced the same thing. So I think that it sort of gave us a leg up in life, to have gone through this.

EP:

What is your opinion of how city government acted at the time?

JM:

Concerning the way that Southern city governments reacted? You see, Greensboro, as I perceive it, had an image thing. They want to preserve or keep an image of being an All-American city, and I could never understand how Southern cities ever had this All-American image in the first place, with the duality that existed. But Greensboro perceived itself as being progressive in that nature—Greensboro is a college community; there are five institutions here, so certainly, they're progressive in that sense. They probably, you know, it was the political reality: we were not going to come in and force this thing overnight. They dragged their heels to a certain extent. I don't think that they gave anything willingly; gains were made begrudgingly.

EP:

What do you think it was that resulted in the desegregation of the lunch counters, the theatres, the cafeterias, that sort of thing? Was it the economic boycotting pressure brought by the black community or some other factor?

JM:

There's certainly no denying that the economics, I think, had an effect. I don't recall the figures from Woolworth's now, but I do think it did have an impact. The other pressures: the continuing pressure, for example, we could fill the jails. We could literally break the city government by filling the jails, if it came to that point, if they warned to arrest us, we could fill the jails and stay there for six months. It became such a terrible problem for the city government to try to manage that, not to mention the ill-press and world opinion, aside from the economics of the matter, certainly in a place like the S&W where we were not an economic factor. That was the type of pressure that eventually brought about a change; that was the fact that the demonstrations eventually brought about that public accommodations act.

EP:

What is your opinion on the various interpretations that have been made of the sit-ins over the years, the last twenty years? Two books have been written about it; one major article and two forthcoming books will come out on the twentieth anniversary in February of 1980. Do you think they're accurate or sensationalized?

JM:

[Unclear] are symbolic. They're symbolic of the times, in the sense that we were young people who wanted to do something. We were never—certainly not any of the four people who participated in the first sit-ins—glory-seekers in the sense that we wanted to be professional civil righters. We all have chosen careers; mine in finance, McCain's in chemistry, Blair and Richmond are in various things.

I don't think that they are sensational. You know, it's an interesting thing, when you look at the things that we did, for a group of people. It's extremely brilliant, in the sense that we called into effect and coordinated such a massive group of things and people. For a group of seventeen, eighteen, nineteen-year-olds—we coordinated press releases, national speaking engagements, demonstrations on a day-to-day basis, legal efforts, we went around to churches and made speeches trying to make the movement grow and solicit aid and help for those who needed contributions, we helped raise money for the NAACP. All of that was a heck of a lot for a group of seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen-year-olds to coordinate. Not just from a coordination point of view, but from the physical presence aspects—showing up each day, manning the picket line with the right type of people, keeping the people who couldn't be nonviolent out of the movement.

EP:

Do you think that any part of the story has been distorted or ignored?

JM:

I think the thing that probably disturbs me most is the fact that enough people don't get credit for what they did. Certainly, it was not a one-man show, certainly not in Greensboro; we made efforts to make it that way.

The females—I feel rather badly because attention was never really given to them and the role that they played, and yet they were the glue of this movement. There were white females who participated in our movement from UNCW [Woman's College of the University of North Carolina?]. I've never heard mention of them. There were some transfer co-eds who were white at Bennett College who participated. There were black women at Bennett, A&T, and various other places who participated and who have never really been given the press; they never sought it. I don't think you can fairly say that people in Greensboro were in this thing for our own personal benefit in any form or fashion; that's a very good general characterization.

EP:

In conclusion, what is your attitude of the changes that have happened in the last twenty years in Greensboro, and the attitude of the city that it now adopts about the sit-ins? Do you see significant—?

JM:

You see now, [laughter] I am pleasantly surprised at the attitude that exists today. I have talked to various people and I understand that, you know, we still have a way to go. I mean, there are things in this community that still need to be done. But, by and large, I think as I look at various other cities in the South, it all has to be done on a relative basis. I think that the city of Greensboro and its response to what happened twenty years ago is a very positive and enlightening type of approach. Certainly, it was a historical thing of note; perhaps one, as you look back now, one of the more significant things to happen in our century. For the city to recognize this and to use it, in the sense of community development and brotherhood going forward, I think that's extremely positive.

EP:

Mr. McNeil I want to thank you for participating in the Greensboro Public Library Oral History Program and giving us your insights as one of the “Greensboro Four.” This has been a segment of the Greensboro Public Library Oral History Program. It was filmed in the library, October 14, 1979.

[End of Interview]