Civil Rights pioneer laid to rest Friday afternoon

by: Jim Bradley Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. —

A civil rights pioneer was laid to rest in Charlotte on Friday. Franklin McCain, whose part in a sit-in at a segregated lunch counter was a turning point in the civil rights movement, was remembered by friends and national leaders. McCain was 73.

"His life stands for something. It stands for commitment to principle," said Elaine Jones, former head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

McCain was one of the "Greensboro Four." McCain and three friends were students at NC A&T in 1960 when they decided to challenge the segregation rules that prohibited blacks from eating at many restaurants. Their sit-in prompted more than 1,000 others to follow them in sit-ins over the next few days.

McCain went on to a 35-year career at Celanese Corporation, but he never stepped away from the fight for civil rights. Friday, in a nearly three-hour funeral service, a long list of friends spoke of his passion for justice. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx called McCain a mentor.

A letter from President Barack Obama said McCain "challenged the conscience" of the nation. N.C. Senator Kay Hagan, and former U.S. Rep. Mel Watt also spoke of McCain's determination.

Rev. Jesse Jackson also spoke to a crowd of several hundred at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.

"All Americans can vote and all Americans can eat where they choose and go to schools that they choose. All this comes through the portals led by Franklin McCain. All of this 'new south' comes from the risk of those young men. This is a big, big moment in the South and in American life," Jackson said.

Joe O'Neil was with McCain in February 1960 when they staged the sit-in. "We had no idea it would be so widely embraced," he said.

Read more on McCain's life, here.