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Museum Gala Salutes Civil Rights Stalwarts


The International Civil Rights Center and Museum held its annual fundraising gala this week on Monday, July 25.

The annual gala is typically held in February, highlighting the beginning of the F.W. Woolworth’s lunch-counter sit-ins launched by four N.C. A&T College freshmen: David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr., (Jibreel Khazan) and Joseph McNeil in 1960. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s gala switched from a Feb. 1 focus to highlight July 25, 1960. Which is the day the downtown Greensboro Woolworth lunch counter was racially integrated 62 years ago.

Under the theme of “Bridging the Generations,” the mistress of ceremonies for the evening was Carla Banks, communications director with the City of Greensboro. Museum leaders said that the schedule change was significant in that it was intended to offer an opportunity for civil rights supporters to take note of the wide range of participants who have added their passion and skills to the ever-broadening struggle for human dignity and equal civic belonging.

“We couldn’t hold the gala in February like we usually do, but we said we’re going to have it on another historic date. July 25, 1960, was when African Americans finally got a chance to sit down at that lunch counter and be served. And now, we own it,” said museum co-founder and co-chairperson of its Board of Directors, Melvin “Skip” Alston, followed by a round of applause from the more than 1,000 people in attendance.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who was not in attendance, was recognized with the Trailblazer Award. A statement from President Joe Biden was read by Deena Hayes Greene, museum Board of Directors co-chairperson.

Civil rights activist, the Rev. Dr. James M. Lawson, was presented with the Alston-Jones International Civil and Human Rights Award.

“As I’m reminded from these scenes in the videos and from the tour of the museum, I want to make a special pitch tonight. Dr. King represents the most important intervention ever in the history of our nation. He is the first man of any stripe who insisted that, ‘they who take the sword will perish by the sword.’ The reason that I celebrate that I was born Black in the United States is that I know that this nation can be and must be transformed,” said Lawson.

Attorney Benjamin Crump, known for his civil rights activism, received the Unsung Hero Award.

“What they (The A&T Four) did still inspires us today because what they did was set an opposition to the enemies of equality and said we shall not be moved. I think about today, as we go into courtrooms all across America, that we look at the enemies of equality – those who will champion White supremacy, those who will try to marginalize our children because of the color of their skin. And much like what the A&T Four did here in Greensboro, North Carolina, we will not be moved,” said Crump.

The Community Service Award went to Rabbi Fred Guttman of Temple Emanuel in Greensboro.

“As Jewish tradition teaches, ‘It is not up to one to complete the task, but neither is one free to desist from trying to do something.’ In 1960, four A&T students sat so that we could stand. In 1965, John Lewis marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge so that we all could vote. Tonight, perhaps as much as ever, we will need to join them in spirit and in action,” he said.

Retired judicial commissioner and Bennett College alumna Marilyn Mackel received the Sit-In Participant Award. In her remarks she noted that people must continue to observe the historical trauma that has been passed down from generation to generation in order to uplift civil and social justice for all.

“We could be facing times worse than the indignities of segregation. This community cohesion that is lacking will create a dissonance that will impact our activism. We must find ways to continue the unceasing vigilance and energy to forward the work and vision of our ancestors. We have miles to go before we sleep,” said Mackel.

Political commentator and attorney Bakari Sellers was presented with the Keeper of the Flame Award. On Sunday, July 24, Sellers participated in a panel discussion titled, “Anthems of Change: When Journalists Gather,” sponsored by the Greensboro Public Library and moderated by Banks. In addition to Sellers, panelists included Siobhan Riley, news anchor with Spectrum News and Afrique I. Kilimanjaro, managing editor and publisher of the Carolina Peacemaker. That discussion is currently available for viewing on the City of Greensboro’s YouTube page.

“It’s necessary that we recognize the ties that bind us. Our history is not that long ago. Tonight, I think it’s important that we take a deep breath and remember that we have two choices in life. King said, ‘we can either have chaos or community.’ It is our time and our season for men and women of faith to stand up for what is right and for what is just.”

The evening also included performances by R&B recording artist Shelby J, accompanied by saxophonist Adrian Crutchfield and the St. James Baptist Church praise dancers.

In addition to the gala, the museum hosted the annual Dr. George Simkins Annual Golf Classic on Friday, July 22 at Forest Oaks Country Club. The golf tournament honors the legacy of the “Greensboro Six,” who demanded equal access to a racially segregated federally funded golf course (Gillespie Golf Course). Their case resulted in advancing the push to desegregate public accommodations across the city of Greensboro.