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Fri, 01.03.1941

Franklin McCain, Activist born

Franklin McCain

*Franklin McCain was born on this date in 1941. He was a Black Chemical Administrator, Civil Rights leader, and one of the Greensboro Four.

McCain was born in Union County, N.C., and grew up in Washington, D.C. In the fall of 1959, he enrolled at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, where he studied chemistry and biology. The three students who became his best friends were Ezell Blair Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), David Richmond, and Joseph McNeil.  They all lived in the same dormitory and studied together every night. The study sessions turned into heavy discussions, often focusing on the friends' disillusionment with their parents, who told them that if they were polite, worked hard, and earned good grades, the American dream would be theirs. "The Big Lie," McCain called it.

Although victories had been won, they were years in the past: Brown vs. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against separate-but-equal public schools, had been issued in 1954, and the Montgomery bus boycott brought Martin Luther King Jr. to prominence ended in 1956. But in 1960, Jim Crow still ruled, with "whites only" signs on public facilities across the South. "The more we talked, the more we felt we were living out the lie,"  McCain told the Charlotte Observer in 2010. "The only thing we'd done is dissected a system, criticized it and our parents … who tried to nurture us. We didn't like that feeling."

On Feb. 1, 1960, McCain sat at a whites-only lunch counter at Woolworth's on Elm Street with Blair Jr. (Jibreel Khazan), McNeil, and Richmond.  The Greensboro Four's actions started a nationwide movement.  The next day, Feb. 2, 1960, 25 students from A&T and other Greensboro schools joined them.  Over the following ten days, the movement gained momentum across North Carolina. By the end of that month, demonstrations took place in at least 250 major cities across the country. McCain graduated from A&T in 1964 with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry and biology.  In the year after he graduated, McCain married Bennett College alumna Bettye Davis.

He worked for the Celanese Chemical Corporation in Charlotte for almost 35 years. He was also a member of the North Carolina university system's board of governors.  He continued to be involved with civic and community organizations, including the NAACP.  In 1994, McCain received an honorary doctorate from North Carolina A&T for his contributions to the American Civil Rights movement.  The Woolworths where the Greensboro Four staged the sit-ins is now the site of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum.  The museum opened on Feb. 1, 2010, 50 years after the sit-ins took place.

His wife Bettye died on Jan. 2, 2013.  Franklin McCain died on January 9, 2014; he was 73 years old. McCain's funeral was scheduled for Jan. 17 at Friendship Baptist Church, located at 3400 Beatties Ford Rd. in Charlotte, N.C.

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