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International Civil Rights Center & Museum
In 1993, Guilford County Commissioner Melvin “Skip” Alston and Greensboro City Councilman Earl F. Jones founded Sit-In Movement, Inc. as a non-profit 501(c) (3) organization to raise funds to purchase the Woolworth’s building to renovate and convert the building into a museum to honor the event of February 1, 1960.
In 2001, Sit-In Movement, Inc. formed a partnership with North Carolina A&T State University to accelerate the development of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. NC A&T University’s Chancellor James C. Renick, Ph.D. and Obrie Smith, President of the NC A&T University Foundation, Inc. joined the organization’s board of directors. NC A&T University’s Vice Chancellor David Hoard was named Chief Executive Officer.
An annual International Civil Rights Museum banquet assists the organization in raising millions to support the construction, exhibit design and fabrication, and artifact acquisition phases of the project. ICRCM banquet honorees have included Rosa Parks, South African President Nelson Mandela, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Jr., the Martin Luther King Family, Dr. Maya Angelou, U.S. Congressman John Lewis, Vernon Jordan, Julius Chambers, Dr. John Hope Franklin, Justine Robert L. Carter, and U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters.
When announced in 1993 that the F.W. Woolworth store in downtown Greensboro would be closing its doors, it was with a vision of preserving civil rights history that prompted two Greensboro men to co-found Sit-In Movement, Incorporated - a non-profit organization who's mission was to purchase the Woolworth building in downtown Greensboro and to complete the necessary renovation to preserve the building and the historical lunch counter where the four students sat in 1960. Melvin 'Skip" Alston (Guilford County Commissioner) and Earl Jones (Greensboro City Councilman) envisioned making the renovated building into a multipurpose facility that would include, among other things, a civil rights museum and library, classrooms, a bookstore, and the restored historic lunch counter.
The vision of these two men is now becoming a reality. with the initial support of First Citizens Bank, the F.W. Woolworth Company, the City of Greensboro, and the Greensboro Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, the International Civil Rights Center and Museum is begining to take shape.
Four major planned exhibits will be included in the International Civil Rights Center & Museum that will be housed in the seventy-five year old Woolworth’s building, located on South Elm Street in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina.
As the visitor enters the museum, the experience begins with an introduction to an act of courage that changed America. A large plaque at the museum escalator entrance announces to the visitor that they are about to embark upon a profoundly moving historic journey. As they descend, the visitor begins to visualize landmark events of the sixties, and is immersed in the sounds, sights, and emotions that set the stage for the Greensboro Sit-Ins. A series of exhibits is being installed that will allow the museum visitor to see and experience graphics, artifacts and archival materials that depict the civil rights movement in the United States of America. The authentic whites- only lunch counter will be the focal point. There will be a dramatic element featuring the impact of non-violent protest in the international arena and the global struggle for democracy.
A total of fourteen signature exhibits and a changing art and exhibit gallery will present a broad spectrum of artifacts and archival installations on the civil rights movement. In the museum, guests will experience the conversations of the four young men in the recreated NC A&T dorm room through an audio- visual platform. They will also view an actual film reenactment of the lunch counter experience as it happened on Feb.1, 1960. Plasma screens will depict a busy shopping day at Woolworth’s, as Ezell Blair leans forward to politely ask to be served a cup of coffee.
The ensuing scenes show a much different picture and reflect the life-altering events over the next days, weeks and months of this non-violent protest. White and black students alike are seen filling the lunch counter seats, quietly sitting on lunch counter stools, while rioting crowds made the evening news, protesting angrily against them, hurling insults behind them and beside police. The sit-ins ended just as abruptly as they started, marking a landmark in the nation’s history.
Upon leaving the lunch counter, visitors will enter an area entitled “The Battlegrounds” where they can explore the day-to-day events and milestones of the 1960’s at their own pace. They witness the events of the spring and summer of 1960, as the sit-ins played out in Greensboro, and spread throughout the south and across the nation. Videos, news clips and film footage will be presented with state of the art equipment to create a multi-sensory virtual experience. Visitors will view the progression of segregation under the rule of law through the unrelenting period of de facto segregation that would persist for decades to come. The final components showcase a new philosophy of freedom, focusing on global efforts to overcome discrimination of every description and how the principles of participatory democracy and non-violent direct action led to justice and self-determination internationally. The experience closes with a stunning tribute “In Memoriam to Lives Lost” in this noble crusade.
The International Civil Rights Center and Museum exists to ensure that this valuable piece of American history is properly acknowledged, and the experiences of the Greensboro Four, their supporters, and the larger community are not relegated to a footnote in history. This pivotal act of courage is remembered as a significant step toward equality, hastening an end to the painful reality of segregation and Jim Crow.
The International Civil Rights Center and Museum exists as a testimony to courage. It is a gift from the people of North Carolina to the nation and the world. We build this monument for the benefit of posterity - to educate future generations and stand as a bridge that links the past, the present, and the future.