Commentary

February 14, 2014

Retired Reservist was at center of the Civil Rights movement.

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Sean Dath
452 AWW public affairs

As a young college student in 1960, McNeil (far left) and three of his friends staged a protest at a lunch counter inside a Woolworth store in Greensboro, N.C. They refused to move when they were told the facility did not serve blacks. Their protest quickly spread to lunch counters in 54 cities in nine states.

On February 1, 1960, four black students who were enrolled at the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina, sat down at a “Whites Only” lunch counter at a Woolworth store in Greensboro, N.C. and propelled themselves into the center of the Civil Rights movement that was sweeping through the southern United States.

One of those four young men was retired Air Force Reserve Maj. Gen. Joseph A. McNeil who was a 17-year-old Air Force ROTC student at the time. He, along with fellow freshmen Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr. and David Richmond, seated themselves at the counter and asked for coffee. When service was denied, the four men refused to move and began their protest of segregation laws that were prominent in the south at the time.

“As a teenager, I was fed up, fed up with being forced to live a second-class citizenship,” McNeil recalled in an interview during a visit to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in 2012. “There comes a time when a man must act. Talking has its place, but there’s a time for action, also.”

Over the next five days, the “Greensboro Four” as they came to be known, returned to the lunch counter and were eventually joined by more than 300 students, sparking national media coverage which brought increasing attention to the fight for equality.

Within a few weeks, the movement had spread to more than 50 cities in 13 states as people from various racial backgrounds joined the protest against segregation, not only at lunch counters, but in a number of establishments throughout the country. By the end of July, 1960, Woolworth’s had begun integrating its lunch counter.

In addition to paving the way for the Civil Rights Act, McNeil’s experience helped shape him as a man.

“Not only was it the catalyst for significant, major legislation sometime later, but it was also important in terms of developing my personal character, who I am and what I believe in,” he said.

McNeil graduated in 1963 with a Bachelor of Science in engineering physics, was commissioned as a second lieutenant and became a navigator on the KC-135 Stratotanker air refueling/cargo aircraft. He served during the Vietnam War before joining the Air Force Reserve in 1969.

While serving as a traditional reservist for 31 years, McNeil also held a civilian job position as the assistant division manager of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Eastern Region Flight Standards division and manager of the New York Flight Standards district office. McNeil retired from the Reserve after holding the position as the mobilization assistant to the commander, Air Force Reserve Command, in 2000.

During the celebration of African American History Month, Team March asks that you join in a salute to a true American hero, Joseph A. McNeil.

(Reference for this article from: http://www.citamn.afrc.af.mil/features/story.asp?id=123377568)




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