March 15, 2010
On the 50th anniversary of the “sit-in” of four African American students at the segregated lunch counter at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, Joseph McNeil, one of the four students, spoke at the Nassau County Legislature regarding the historic moment in 1960. African Americans were not permitted to sit at the lunch counter, which was reserved for whites only. Although the four students were refused service, they were allowed to stay at the counter. In the days afterward, more and more men and women joined the protest, which spread to other cities. The sit-ins brought nationwide attention to segregation, and were a major milestone in the Civil Rights movement.
Mr. McNeil spoke eloquently about his role in the Greensboro sit-ins and the effectiveness of non-violent protest and civil disobedience. Mr. McNeil joked that when he finally was served a cup of coffee at Woolworth’s, it wasn’t as good as he expected.
At the time Mr. McNeil was an Air Force ROTC student. He received a degree in engineering physics in 1963. He went on to work at IBM, Bankers Trust, E.F. Hutton, and the Federal Aviation Administration. Mr. McNeil joined the Air Force Reserves in 1969, retiring as a major general.
Legislator Nicolello stated, “Joseph McNeil is a giant of the Civil Rights movement. It took incredible personal courage to stand against repressive policies of segregation and the institutions that perpetuated these policies. Mr. McNeil and his fellow students helped launch a movement that changed America and the world. He is a true American hero.”