Barack Obama

President Barack Obama

In 1960, four young students from North Carolina A&T walked into a Woolworth store in Greensboro, N.C., sat down at a lunch counter and reignited a movement for social justice that would forever change America.

Inspired by the words and deeds of a young preacher who catalyzed a bus boycott in Montogmery, Ala., Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, David L. Richmond and Jibreel Khazan (Ezell Blair Jr.) decided that enough was enough.

They knew they would be the subject of ridicule and bigotry upon taking their seats. But they also knew that what was happening in Greensboro and throughout the country was an affront to America’s founding ideals of freedom, equality and justice for all.

After ordering coffee and being refused service, the men who would become known as the Greensboro Four left the lunch counter, but the moments they sat in those chairs have had a lasting impact on our nation.

The quiet dignity of this simple act sparked other sit-ins in Greensboro and across the country.

The lessons taught at that five-and-dime challenged us to consider who we are as a nation and what kind of future we want to build for our children.

We know the rest of the story. One year later, the Freedom Riders made their brave trek across the South. Two summers after that, the same Montgomery preacher who inspired the Greensboro Four would stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and pronounce his dream for America. One year later came the Civil Rights Acts, and the next year, the Voting Rights Act, which helped secure for African Americans — and all Americans — a fundamental right to share in the blessings of this country.

To the four young men who courageously sat down to order a cup of coffee 50 years ago, and to all they inspired, I simply say, thank you.

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