Back in early December, I wrote that with Joel in North Carolina, we might take a trip in the spring, timed so that we can see a UNC home lacrosse game against one of its traditional rivals. I had checked periodically through the fall for UNC’s schedule to be posted. When it was, I was delighted to see that they would be playing defending national champion Virginia at home on April 7. Without checking with Joel (and without realizing that that weekend also happens to bring two Passover Seders, Easter, and the Masters), I decided we would be there. Since then, I’ve been thinking about what we’ll do when not at the lacrosse game. I now have a great day trip planned, to Saxapahaw and Greensboro.
Regarding Greensboro, let me go back to a trip Gail and I made two springs ago. I had some business in DC, at the end of which Gail flew out to meet me for a little Civil War outing: two-and-a-half days in Harper’s Ferry, Antietam, and Gettysburg. We got back to DC in the late afternoon, checked into our hotel, returned the rental car, and dashed back to the museum closest to our hotel, the National Museum of American History. Our time was limited, so we grabbed a handout at the front desk with a list of highlights that included the one exhibit Gail wanted to see, Julia Child’s kitchen, dashed off to the kitchen, caught our breaths, and spent some time touring it.
After that, we examined the highlight list and selected a few other exhibits to see before the museum closed. (See my post written at the time for a fuller discussion of our visit.) One of our choices was the Woolworth’s lunch counter from Greensboro, North Carolina. As the museum webpage explains:
The landmark object for the 2nd floor east wing will be the Greensboro lunch counter, famous for its significance to the civil rights movement.
Racial segregation was still legal in the United States on February 1, 1960, when four African American college students sat down at this Woolworth counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. Politely asking for service at this “whites only” counter, their request was refused. When asked to leave, they remained in their seats. Their sit-in drew national attention and helped ignite a youth-led movement to challenge inequality throughout the South.
In Greensboro, hundreds of students, civil rights organizations, churches, and members of the community joined in a six-month-long protest. Their commitment ultimately led to the desegregation of the F. W. Woolworth lunch counter on July 25, 1960.
Ezell A. Blair Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond were students enrolled at the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College when they began their protest.
Protests such as this led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which finally outlawed racial segregation in public accommodations.
The closing of the Greensboro Woolworth’s in 1993 presented Museum curators with the opportunity to acquire this historic artifact. After extensive negotiations with Woolworth’s executives and representatives of the local community, a small section of the lunch counter was donated to the Smithsonian.
With the memory of that small section of lunch counter in mind, I suggested to Gail two months ago that we seek out the rest of the counter while we’re in North Carolina. Greensboro is only 50 miles away. A short internet search led me to Greensboro’s International Civil Rights Center & Museum. The website explains that it is “devoted to the international struggle for civil and human rights. The Museum celebrates the nonviolent protests of the 1960 Greensboro sit-ins that served as a catalyst in the civil rights movement [and] is located in the historic 1929 F.W. Woolworth building in Greensboro, N.C.” Included in the museum is the “original lunch counter and stools where the Greensboro Four (Ezell Blair, Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil and David Richmond) began their protest on Feb. 1, 1960.”
The next piece of the plan fell into place when I looked at the NYT Sunday travel section four weeks ago. It had a short note with the headline, Saxapahaw, N.C., Middle of Somewhere, Becomes a Draw. I had no idea where Saxapahaw was, but I was intrigued, so I read on.
I was polishing off a steaming bowl of coconut curry soup when a server appeared bearing a plate of plump pan-seared diver scallops atop creamy applewood-bacon succotash and braised asparagus. The food was befitting a candlelit restaurant, but I had a view of gas pumps outside and, a few steps from my table, fluorescent-lighted aisles packed with workaday necessities — toilet paper, motor oil, sauerkraut juice (aids digestion, according to the label).
This jarring contrast of farm-fresh food and service-station atmosphere is part of the appeal of the place where I was dining: the Saxapahaw General Store, a no-frills convenience store and restaurant that has sparked a revival in the former mill town of Saxapahaw in central North Carolina.
I still had no idea where Saxapahaw was, but this sounded promising. And when I looked it up on the map, I discovered the best possible news: it’s just 16 miles west of Chapel Hill, on the way to Greensboro. We could stop for a late breakfast, or perhaps on our return to Chapel Hill for dinner. The plan was complete.
Further confirmation that the Greensboro museum would be a worthy destination came yesterday. For a brief time, the NYT home page featured at its top an article from today’s paper on civil rights museums. Seeing it, I wondered if the Greensboro museum was mentioned. Sure enough, it’s in the second sentence: “A visitor can peer into the motel room in Memphis where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was staying when he was shot or stand near the lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., where four young men began a sit-in that helped end segregation.” And two of the nine photos in the accompanying slide show highlight it. (See the lunch counter here.)
I’m thinking we have a pretty good day planned. Unless we’d rather just stay in our Chapel Hill hotel room and watch the Masters.