International Civil Rights Center and Museum

International Civil Rights Center and Museum

Museum Logo
Location in North Carolina
Established 2010
Location 134 S. Elm Street Greensboro, North Carolina, 27401 USA 336.274.9199
Coordinates 36°04′18″N 79°47′25″W / 36.071706°N 79.790405°W / 36.071706; -79.790405
Type Civil Rights
Visitors 0
Director Bamidele Demerson

The International Civil Rights Center & Museum (ICRCM) is in Greensboro, North Carolina. Its building formerly housed the Woolworth's, the site of a non-violent protest in the U.S. civil rights movement. Four students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T) started the Greensboro sit-ins at a "whites only" lunch counter on February 1, 1960. The four students were Franklin McCain; Joseph McNeil; Ezell Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan); and David Richmond. The next day there were twenty. The aim of the museum's founders is to ensure that history remembers the actions of the Greensboro Four, those who joined them in the daily Woolworth's sit-ins, and others around the country who took part in sit-ins and in the American civil rights movement. The project received substantial donations from the state, city, and county as well as private donors. The museum opened fifty years to the day after the sit-ins.

Saving the building

In 1993, the Woolworth's downtown Greensboro store, which had been open since 1939, closed and the company announced plans to tear down the building. Greensboro radio station 102 JAMZ, (WJMH), began a petition drive to save the location. Morning radio personality Dr. Michael Lynn broadcast in front of the closed store day and night to save the historic building. Eighteen thousand signatures were gathered on a petition. Rev. Jesse Jackson, Jr. visited the location, endorsed the effort, and joined the live broadcast. After three days, the F.W. Woolworth company announced an agreement to maintain the location while financing could be arranged to buy the store. (The Woolworth chain went out of business in 1997, a few years later; the company owning the chain became Venator and is now named Foot Locker.)

County Commissioner Melvin "Skip" Alston and City Councilman Earl Jones proposed buying the site and turning it into a museum. The two founded Sit-in Movement, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to realizing this dream. The group succeeded in purchasing the property and renovating it.[1]

In 2001, Sit-in Movement Inc. and NC A&T announced a partnership to facilitate the museum's becoming a reality.[2]

Financial difficulties

The building in 2008, before opening as the ICRCM
A section of the lunch counter now appears in the display of the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History.

The museum project suffered financial difficulties for a number of years,[3] despite millions of dollars in donations. These included more than $1 million from the State of North Carolina, a contribution from the Bryan Foundation, more than $200,000 each from the City of Greensboro and Guilford County,[4] and $148,152 from the U.S. Department of Interior through the National Park Service Agency's Save America's Treasures program in 2005.[5]

In fall 2007, Sit-in Movement, Inc. requested an additional $1.5 million from the City of Greensboro, a request that was rejected.[6] Greensboro residents twice voted down bond referenda to provide money for the project.

In 2013, the city agreed to a $1.5 million loan, with the condition that an amount equal to money raised "outside the normal course of business" by the museum from September 2013 to July 2015 would be forgiven. A June 24, 2016 memo from City Manager Jim Westmoreland and Mayor Nancy Vaughn said the museum raised $612,510 and owed $933,155, with the first $145,000 payment due June 30, and the remainder by February 2018.[7] The museum claimed it owed $281,805. On August 1, the city council voted not to forgive $800,000 of the debt; using the museum building as collateral was an option.[8] Two weeks later, the city council gave the museum until February 2018 to raise more money, with an amount equal to money raised to be subtracted from the debt.[9]

Fundraising and opening

As the 50th anniversary of the sit-ins grew closer, efforts increased to complete the project. Over $9 million in donations and grants were raised. In addition, the museum qualified for historic preservation tax credits, which were sold for 14 million dollars. Work on the project proceeded, and was completed in time for the 50th anniversary opening.[10]

The ICRCM opened on February 1, 2010, on the 50th anniversary of the original sit-in, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. A religious invocation was spoken by Rev. Jesse Jackson, Jr.. The three surviving members of the Greensboro Four (McCain, McNeil, and Khazan) were guests of honor. Assistant Attorney Thomas Perez represented the White House. Speakers included Thomas Perez, U.S. Senator Kay Hagan and N.C. Governor Beverly Perdue.[11][12]

Annual events

Since 2007 the museum organization has held an annual Black and White Ball. The 2010 theme was "Commemorating Five Decades of Civil Rights Activism."[12] The 2011 theme was "Make a Change, Make a Difference."[13] The 2013 theme was "Celebrating Our Victories as We Honor Our Past."[14]


The museum organization awards an Alston-Jones International Civil and Human Rights Award. The award is given to someone whose life work has contributed to the expansion of civil and human rights. This is the museum's highest citation. The author Maya Angelou was the winner in 1998.[15]

The 2013 Alston-Jones award was presented to Dr. Johnnnetta Betsch Cole, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art. Dr. Cole is a distinguished educator, cultural anthropologist and humanitarian. She is a former president of Bennett College and of Spelman College. The Museum gave Dr. Joe Dudley Sr., co-founder of Dudley Products, the 2013 Trailblazer Award. Gladys Shipman, proprietor of Shipman Family Care, received the 2013 Unsung Hero Award. For their courageous actions in the wake of the Feb. 1, 1960 sit-in protest, ICRCM gave Sit-In Participant Awards to Roslyn Cheagle of Lynchburg, Virginia; Raphael Glover of Charlotte, North Carolina; and Mary Lou Blakeney and Andrew Dennis McBride of High Point, North Carolina.[14]


Architect Charles Hartmann designed the building in an art deco style. Completed in 1929, the building in the 100 South block of Elm Street was then known as the Whelan Building because Whelan Drug Co. rented most of the space. Woolworth moved into the site in 1939. The building is part of the Downtown Greensboro Historic District.

The International Civil Rights Center & Museum was designed by Freelon Group of Durham, NC and exhibits designed by Eisterhold Associates of Kansas City, MO and include 30,000 square feet (2,800 m2) of exhibit space occupying the ground floor and basement and office space on the top floor. Docent led and self guided tours are available for a fee. Tours begin in the lower level where visitors are introduced to the segregated society of the 1960s through video presentations and continues with a graphic "Hall of Shame" display of the violence against civil rights protestors of all colors throughout the United States. Visitors are introduced to the four students through an reenactment of the planning session set against the original furniture from their dorm room at A&T College in 1960. Visitors are led into the main floor of the museum where the massive lunch counter, in the original 1960 L shaped configuration occupies nearly the whole width and half the length of the building. Original signage from 1960, dumb waiters that delivered food from the kitchen upstairs are include as is a reenactment of the sit-in on life sized video screens. Visitors are then led through a reproduction of the "Colored Entrance" at the Greensboro Rail Depot where the role of the church, schools, politics, and courts in the civil rights movement are explored. Artifacts include a pen used to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965, uniform of a Tuskegee Airman native to Greensboro, and a complete Ku Klux Klan robe and hood.[16][17][18][19]

See also


  1. "The International Civil Rights Museum, Movement page". Archived from the original on April 9, 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-20.
  2. "New Collaboration between Sit-In Movement, Inc. and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University" (PDF). North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. 2001-06-26. Retrieved 2008-12-20.
  3. "The International Civil Rights Museum, Capital Campaign page". Archived from the original on August 28, 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-20.
  4. "The International Civil Rights Museum, List of Donors page". Archived from the original on January 15, 2009. Retrieved 2008-12-20.
  5. "Assistance to Sit-In Movement, Inc. - Woolworth Building in NC (FY 2005)". a project of OMB Watch. Retrieved 2008-12-20.
  6. Banks, Margaret M (2007-09-05). "City takes first step to annex". News & Record. Retrieved 2008-12-20.
  7. Moffett, Margaret (2016-07-15). "City: Sit-in museum owes $933,155 in loan repayment by 2018". News & Record. Retrieved 2016-08-02.
  8. Moffett, Margaret (2016-08-01). "Greensboro council refuses to write off $800,000 owed by civil rights museum". News & Record. Retrieved 2016-08-02.
  9. Moffett, Margaret (2016-08-16). "Greensboro council gives sit-in museum more time to repay loan". News & Record. Retrieved 2016-08-17.
  10. "New museum in Greensboro will tell the story of '60s sit-ins". Charlotte Observer. 2010-01-31. Retrieved 2010-02-02.
  11. McLaughlin, Nancy H. (2010-02-02). "'Countless acts of heroism'". News & Record. Retrieved 2010-02-02.
  12. 1 2 "Grand Opening and 50th Anniversary: A Nationally Historic Event". International Civil Rights Center & Museum Newsletter. International Civil Rights Center & Museum. Summer 2010. Retrieved 2013-04-11.
  13. "Black & White Ball In Downtown Greensboro Celebrates 50+ Years of Civil Rights Activism". Community News. WFMY News. 2011-09-24. Retrieved 2013-04-11.
  14. 1 2 "Sit-in museum to present awards". The Winston-Salem Chronicle. 2013-02-01. Retrieved 2016-02-12.
  15. See List of honors received by Maya Angelou.
  16. ROTHSTEIN, EDWARD (January 31, 2010). "Four Men, a Counter and Soon, Revolution". New York Times.
  18. "International Civil Rights Center & Museum".
  19. "Eisterhold Associates Inc.". Retrieved 12 February 2016.
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