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Aggies Once Again Honor the Legacy of the A&T Four

By Jackie Torok / 02/18/2022 Student Affairs, Employees, Students

Patrons enjoy the 2022 February One Celebration in the Willie A. Deese Ballroom.

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (Feb. 1, 2022) – Members of the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University community – including the inaugural cohort of February One Scholars – gathered Feb. 1 to celebrate the 62nd anniversary of the A&T Four’s sit-in at Woolworth’s Department Store that accelerated the Civil Rights Movement.

The actions of freshmen Jibreel Khazan (formerly Ezell Blair Jr.), Gen. Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain Sr. and David Richmond on Feb. 1, 1960, prompted others to conduct similar peaceful protests against racial injustice in at least 250 municipalities across the country by the end of that month.

In honor of The Four, as many at A&T know the legendary grooup, the university announced its inaugural cohort last fall of February One Scholars – 15 academically talented first-year undergraduates who are continuing the legacy of leadership and service that characterized the A&T Four.

The College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, the College of Education and the John R. and Kathy R. Hairston College of Health and Human Sciences partnered to establish the fully funded four-year scholarship program using a portion of philanthropist MacKenzie Scott’s historic $45 million gift to the university.

“Being among the inaugural class of the February One Scholars is an incredible honor,” said Jayden Seay of Woodbridge, Virginia, who is studying elementary education. “We have been given the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of the A&T Four, lead our communities and enact change.”

McNeil, along with members of his family, as well as the family members of Khazan, McCain and Richmond, took part in the program, “62 Years in the Making: Increasing Our Stride,” featuring N.C. Supreme Court Associate Justice Anita Earls as guest speaker.

Earls, A&T’s 2021 Human Rights Medal recipient, has been identified among President Joe Biden’s possible Supreme Court nominees to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer.

Before taking office in the state Supreme Court, Earls litigated voting rights cases and other civil rights matters over 30 years. She also worked as a U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division deputy assistant attorney general under President Clinton’s administration.

In 2009, Earls was appointed to the North Carolina State Board of Elections and served on the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission. She is the founder and executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a legal advocacy nonprofit in Durham, North Carolina.

“The sit-in movement that started 62 years ago on February 1 was certainly something that impacted me personally,” said Earls. “When I learned about the courage of those students to ignite a movement (and) to put themselves on the line, to stand up to unjust laws and customs and stand up against racial discrimination and racial oppression, it really inspired me to ask myself, ‘What am I doing?’”

The history lesson motivated Earls to go on a hunger strike in her junior year at Williams College in protest of the school’s investments in South Africa, which remained under apartheid rule at the time.

“I am sure that there are literally thousands of stories like mine around the country – around the world – of people who were moved and inspired by the events that happened on February 1, 62 years ago.”

Earls articulated three concrete ways to "increase our stride" in the spirit of the A&T Four: make injustice visible, give everyone a way to participate in solutions, and learn from our youth.

“Thank you to the A&T Four for seeing the light and for being brave enough to be it,” said Earls, citing the last lines of youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb.”

Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr. reflected on Earls’ remarks after recognizing the February One Scholars cohort.

“The progress of one generation, so hard-fought and significant, becomes the starting point for the next. I have no doubt that among our February One Scholars and many of our students, there are a number of students who will carry the momentum forward, building on the accomplishments of the A&T Four,” said Martin. “The history-making legacy of Justice Earls and many others, points of progress we’ve experienced over the past century – that’s the point of this year’s theme, ‘62 Years in the Making: Increasing Our Stride.’

"Our civil rights gains, our advances in social justice, are more than moments of tremendous satisfaction. They also represent a valuable addition to our capability to do good in the world and the size and scope of our capacity to affect change.”

The event concluded with the laying of memorial wreaths for McCain, who died in January 2014, and Richmond, who died in December 1990, at the February One monument on campus with a performance by the award-winning N.C. A&T Fellowship Gospel Choir.

 

Media Contact Information: jtorok@ncat.edu

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