A couple of years ago I visited the International Civil Rights Center in Greensboro, housed in the building of the famous 1960 Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins. It’s a world-class museum that powerfully cuts into the spirit and soul of those who walk through it, filled with relics, photos, and stories of the Civil Rights era.
Being a Civil Rights enthusiast, the trip brought to life some of my greatest heroes, including the lunch counter four. David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr., and Joseph McNeil were not the first to orchestrate a sit-in, nor the last. Actually sit-ins were happening throughout the South and even this one lasted for several months involving hundreds of different participants. But what set these four A&T Freshmen apart from all the others, was that their plan involved the media, thus forcing the public to take notice of what was going on.
My time in the museum so profoundly touched me that I talked about it for days to everyone who would listen, including my parents. “I used to have lunch with one of them,” my daddy responded in his quiet matter-of-fact way. My daddy is a humble man of few words, but full of surprises. When he speaks you might want to listen! How on earth had I lived with this man through my entire youth and never heard of this relationship? He proceeded to tell the story.
Franklin McCain, he’s the tall one in the famous picture, was working at that time as a chemist and sales representative for Celanese Corporation. My daddy was working for Unifi, Inc. which bought raw yarn from Celanese to be textured. From the late 1970s until 1984 the two of them went to lunch together regularly whenever McCain came to Unifi, even if his business was with someone else. They shared stories about their lives and families. "Frank," as my my daddy calls him, had 2 sons about the age of my sister and me, and apparently that was a favorite topic. But they never talked about the lunch counter, because my daddy never knew McCain was a part of that until some years later when he read something in a magazine and saw his picture. They were friends, though, he said. He had McCain’s personal contact info and said if either of them were to ever contact the other, even then, he felt sure they’d both be right there for each other. His affection for McCain was evident in his voice.
Today I was driving home from work and heard the news of Franklin McCain's death. Yesterday, respiratory complications, age 73.* My heart cried. There are few who make such a difference in this world, few who sacrifice their own safety for the good of the whole. Rest in Peace, Franklin McCain, for in the hearts of many millions and in the soul of our nation, you live forever tall.
Franklin Eugene McCain, Sr. 1942-2014
Lowell Vestal, My Daddy
*Various sources list McCain's age as 71, 72, and 73.
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photo credits: sitinmovement.org and npr.org