Students Celebrate a True Civil Rights Hero

Photo of students with McNeil
Photo of Marion Street students
Photo of Waverly Park student
Photo of student playing Lincoln
Photo of West End students
Photo of McNeil receiving award
In honor of Black History Month, third-graders at Marion Street Elementary School recently hosted their annual Civil Rights Presentation where they recognized Joseph McNeil, a leader in the Civil Rights movement and member of the Greensboro Four. Administrators including Superintendent of Schools Dr. Melissa Burak, families and third-graders from Waverly Park and West End elementary schools also attended the special ceremony in the Marion Street gymnasium. 

Coordinated by teacher Steve Freifeld and the rest of the third-grade staff, McNeil sat front row as audience members watched a video about his involvement in the Greensboro 4. Fifty-eight years ago, McNeil and three of his classmates, Ezell Blair, Franklin McCain and David Richmond from the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College, sat at Woolworth’s “whites only” lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina and refused to leave until they were served. This inspired thousands of young people to challenge injustice and racial inequality throughout the southern part of the United States. The commitment of McNeil and his friends increased awareness of racial discrimination and ultimately led to the desegregation of all restaurants and other public facilities throughout the South. 

“Mr. McNeil hopes that his actions will inspire you to use peaceful means to bring about change and make the world a better place,” Freifeld told students. 

The special ceremony corresponded with the Lynbrook third-graders unit on Civil Rights. Since 1991, McNeil has visited Marion Street Elementary School each year to speak with students and answer questions. Through his speech, McNeil inspired students to be the good in the world. 

“There is a lot of hatred in this world,” said McNeil. “Goodness like hatred can be taught and must be taught. You must teach goodness and recognize hatred as an evil.” 

As a way to honor McNeil, Marion Street third-graders performed a show titled “Civil Rights Olympics” which featured powerful songs about peace and skits including important historical figures. At the conclusion of the performance, the students awarded the gold medal of the Civil Rights Olympics to McNeil for his ability to enact a positive change in the world. McNeil then visited classrooms around the building during the day to speak with students in a smaller setting.