On 1 February 1960, 17-year-old Franklin McCain and three black friends went to the whites-only counter at Woolworths in Greensboro, North Carolina and took a seat. The humiliation of growing up black in the south had left the teenage McCain contemplating suicide. Having spent the previous night chastising the older generation for their failure to effectively confront segregation, the four young men had talked themselves into an act that was brave, reckless, exhilarating and, ultimately, liberating.
“We wanted to go beyond what our parents had done,” McCain told me almost four decades later. “The worst thing that could happen was that the Ku Klux Klan could kill us … but I had no concern for my personal safety. The day I sat at that counter, I had the most tremendous feeling of elation and celebration. I felt that, in this life, nothing else mattered … If there’s a heaven, I got there for a few minutes. I just felt you can’t touch me, you can’t hurt me. There’s no other experience like it.”