Tell civil rights stories now

Jan. 11, 2014 @ 04:54 PM

For more than decade, we have heard that World War II veterans were dying at a rate of 1,000 a day. During that time, I have taken every opportunity, for this newspaper and others, to record their stories and share them with you. I’ll continue to do so.

There’s a new Greatest Generation that is now dying off, and they are great for a different reason. Some of them were WWII veterans, too, and some were the early baby boomers. I’m talking about veterans not necessarily of the military but definitely of a different kind of conflict. I’m talking about the civil rights movement. It’s a subject worth talking about not just because Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black History Month are coming up. Like any defining, momentous time in United States history, it is worth remembering throughout the year. Holidays remind us, as do anniversaries. And so do the deaths of notable people who strived to make America a better place.
Franklin McCain Sr. died on Thursday. He was one of the Greensboro Four, the N.C. A&T State University students who sat in at the Woolworth’s counter in Greensboro and started the wave of sit-ins across the South to desegregate where Americans ate lunch. Yes, those of us versed in Durham history know that the Royal Ice Cream Parlor sit-in came first, but the wave didn’t catch on then.
On Feb. 1, 1960, McCain and three other students – Jibreel Khazan (then Ezell Blair Jr.), Joseph McNeil and the late David Richmond – sat on stools but stood on shoulders, and the next generation stood on their shoulders. For the rest of his life, McCain continued to talk about the significance of that day. He was a living example of why it is important to stand up to injustice.
He was only 71 when he died, younger than most of us hope to live. But once we reach our 70s, many of us will be on the home stretch, if you’ll grant me a racetrack cliche. And so, rounding the corner back to the start of this column, it is high time for some storytelling. Some questioning. Some collecting. Some recording. Some preserving. With me, if you’d like to see it recorded by a newspaper. At your home, if you want to just pass the stories down to family. Written down, if you want people to read it after you’ve gone. Tell it. Preach it. All of it. The good and the bad. Bring it out into the open because secrets don’t stay buried. The stories will be tragic, and triumphant, and surprising, and not surprising at all. Not every story will be as great at Franklin McCain’s, but every story will still be part of the big story. The time is now.
Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan may be reached at or 919-419-6563.