64th Anniversary of Feb. 1 Sit-insBy Yasmine Regester / February 9, 2024
North Carolina A&T State University’s February One Monument has been one of the most recognized and most photographed parts of campus for more than 20 years. On the 64th anniversary of the February 1, 1960s, lunch counter sit-in the university honored James Barnhill, sculptor of the A&T Four monument and former A&T art professor.
The statue depicts the A&T Four, freshmen David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Jibreel Khazan (né Ezell Blair) and Joseph McNeil walking purposefully alongside each other as they exit the downtown Woolworth’s store (Feb 1, 1960). The statue is the most photographed element of the university’s 132-year-old campus. Barnhill installed the 600-lb bronze sculpture in 2002 in front of the Dudley Memorial Building. The monument and Dudley are part of a National Historic District comprising the western side of A&T’s 200-acre campus.
“The statue’s location in front of A&T’s Dudley Memorial Building further emphasizes its significance within the university’s history,” Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr. said before presenting an honorary award, a replica of the monument, to Barnhill. “The monument’s depiction of the four young men walking out of Woolworth’s after their protest is not only a powerful visual representation but a testament to the transformative impact of their actions.”
Chancellor Martin also presented the Human Rights Medal, the university’s highest honor for contributions to civil rights, civil liberties and/or human rights, to Naeema Muhammad, senior advisor for the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network and founding member of Black Workers for Justice in North Carolina. Muhammad was not present at the breakfast but responded with a video message thanking the university.
“I receive this honor with grace and gratefulness. I couldn’t do this work without all the families who allowed me in their homes. Getting people informed is the best way to get people involved in saving themselves,” Muhammad said in the video.
Hundreds of community members gathered at the campus’s Alumni Foundation Center on February 1 for the annual breakfast to honor the legacy of the four A&T freshman, Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr., the late Franklin McCain, and the late David Richmond.
“I can only imagine what that was like as a college student,” said SGA President, Jasmine Amaniampong. “Without their bravery and courage, our lives would be vastly different. We will continue their movement and fight for justice and equality. When we unify. Our impact amplifies.”
After performances by the N.C. A&T Fellowship Gospel Choir, a panel discussion took place called, “The Gathering Conversation” featuring A&T professors, staff, and students to discuss the movement and what it’s going to take to continue moving forward.
Oliver M. Thomas ’06, Ph.D., M.Div., director of External Affairs, spoke about the preservation of democracy in the context of the A&T Four legacy.
“Democracy doesn’t end when certain policies are put in place. Democracy requires participation. Anti-intellectualism is plaguing our democracy right now,” said Thomas. “You have to pay attention, you have to read, engage in conversation, know what’s happening in your community. Having a gathering like this reinvigorates our hope to know that we’re doing this together.”
“As we look to the A&T Four to continue to help us with these conversations, we also have to value that the dialogue has to be intense. It needs to be critical. It doesn’t need to be surfaced and the perspectives of so many cannot be easily dismissed if we’re going to have change – positive substantive change.”
Kennedy Lighty, an A&T senior political science major said that the A&T Four’s legacy has laid the groundwork for all that students do regarding social justice work.
“I think it’s important that everyone gets involved. I think it’s necessary that everyone plays into their strengths and uses their strengths for the greater good of this work and gets involved. There’s a role for everyone.”
Crystal Boyce, ’07, ’15, and interim associate vice chancellor for Alumni Relations, noted that the alumni are now a part of that history and have a responsibility to teach and support current students’ participation and engagement in upholding the legacy.
“When I first saw the A&T Four statue as a student in 2003, it was amazing to see the history that was at A&T and what they did just as freshmen. How they impacted democracy when they weren’t truly a part of democracy but took a stand.”
She added, “We are responsible for educating our students and our community on what A&T is, what our greatness has been, what it is now and how we’re growing. If we don’t tell our own story no one else will. We have a responsibility to bring our students along and educate them on the importance of knowing their history and not erasing it.”
Tiffany Seawright, director of Leadership and Engagement at A&T noted that moving forward means being strategic in bringing people across the board to the table.
“We should also make sure that we are not being performative. That it’s genuine and real, and that we bring folks to the table who want change, and not just talk about it, but have action behind change. If they’re not ready to take action, and we’re just going to keep on having conversations, then what’s the point of the gathering?” said Seawright.
The breakfast program was followed by the laying of the memorial wreath at the February One Monument and then a student-led social justice discussion at Harrison Auditorium.