Civil Rights Pioneer Shares Experience At Queens School
Some Queens students recently got a lesson from a historical figure as part of their school's Black History Month celebration. NY1's Ruschell Boone filed the following report.
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Joseph McNeil's legacy is one for the history books. As one of the leaders of the first Woolworth's lunch counter sit-ins, he helped end segregation in the south: a lesson students at PS 195 in Rosedale learned first hand.
On February 1st, 1960, McNeil and three of his college classmates sat at the whites-only lunch counter at the Woolworth's in Greensboro, North Carolina. That simple but direct challenge to segregation sparked massive protests for months.
"I'm like really inspired because to think that he would take the risk of being arrested, being beaten and taking all those risks to make a difference and he chose to do it. He didn't have to," said PS 195 Student Jean Sassine.
"Just standing up for something important gives you a sense of worth knowing that your presence, even though it was silent meant a lot," said McNeil. "And we didn't know that it would be as meaningful as it turnout out to be."
The protest led to sit-ins across the south, energizing the civil rights movement. The elementary school students were glued to McNeil's every word as he spoke about this momentous time.
The students were not the only ones who were amazed. So were the parents and staff who attended the event.
"It was great for me to be here to hear his story of what he went through and for the kids to see and to be able touch someone who helped in the civil rights movement," said PS 195 Parent Celeste Sassine.
"They don't know that the shoulders that we stand on, and why we are where we are, what we have and why we have it. So I think it's important that we bring these living legends into the schools so that the children can learn and know where we came from," said PS 195 Principal Beryl Bailey.
Now a retired military veteran, McNeil hopes his words will continue to inspire young people because he was only 17 years old when he sat down for equality.