"Whites Only" Lunch Counter Becomes Museum

In this Jan. 7, 2010 photo, the lunch counter at the former F.W. Woolworth is shown at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, N.C. Four college freshmen walked into a Greensboro, N.C., dime store on Monday, Feb. 1 1960, bought a few items, then sat down at the "whites only" lunch counter, and sparked a wave of civil rights protest that changed America.
AP Photo/Chuck Burton

From the outside, this building could be any five and dime in Anytown, U.S.A. But past the façade, the similarities end.

Because this building, which used to be a Woolworth store played a prominent role in the Civil Rights movement, and was inaugurated Monday as a Civil Rights museum.

Housed here are a collection of memories from America's segregated past, and the actual seats that helped end that segregation at Woolworth's "whites only" lunch counter.

This counter no longer serves lunch. Now it serves as a reminder of a time when, not so long ago, people like CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller, weren't allowed to sit here - until four college students said, "enough."

"This thing was evil, pure and simple," said Joe McNeil, a civil rights protester.

On Feb. 1, 1960, McNeil and three other young men sat down and ordered coffee and apple pie.

"The question is if we didn't handle it now, who would? Would our children be left with these same problems that we were facing?" McNeil asked.

They did not get served, but they did not go away.

"Were you afraid?" Miller asked.

"I think we were too angry to be afraid," McNeil said.

In fact, others joined them and the crowd grew bigger every day until the lunch counter was full of people - black and white - demanding an end to inequality.

The protests hampered business, forcing Woolworth to choose between the color line and the bottom line.

Six months later, Woolworth integrated nationwide.

Joe McNeil, Franklin McCain and Jibreel Khazan, the surviving members of the Greensboro four, were the guest of honor at Monday's ceremony. The message: Never give up.

"If our country is screwed up then dad blast it we'll change it," McNeil said.

Woolworth closed its stores in 1997, but the new museum keeps this building alive as well as the memory of what happened here.

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    Michelle Miller is the co-host of "CBS This Morning: Saturday." As an award-winning correspondent based in New York City, she has reported for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. She joined CBS News in 2004.