“Freedom is never given; it is won.”
—A. Philip Randolph, civil rights and union leader
On Feb. 1, 1960, four African-American college students sat down at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., and politely asked to be served. When their request was denied, they remained seated. Their defiance and courage drew hundreds of people to Greensboro to join their sit-in. Within weeks, similar sit-ins were staged in cities across the country. After the six-month-long protest in Greensboro, the Woolworth’s lunch counter was serving black patrons. Dining facilities in the South were integrated. The Greensboro sit-in and similar protests led to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibiting racial segregation in public accommodations.
It’s been 55 years since the 1964 Civil Rights Act was signed into law. As we celebrate Black History Month, AFGE wants to honor those who fought and made sacrifices so all of us can live in a better society and challenge ourselves to live up to our own ideals that all people are created equal.
Our very own civil rights leader
We also want to honor the memory of the late Augusta Y. Thomas, AFGE National Vice President Emeritus for Women and Fair Practices, who took part in the Greensboro sit-in and other fights for justice. Augusta’s story, courage, and determination inspired us all.
Moved by what she saw on TV about what happened in Greensboro, Augusta decided she needed to be there to support the four college students. She was a mother of six at the time, so her husband and father told her not to go for fear of her getting hurt or even killed. But Augusta had already made up her mind.
"If I don’t go and the next person doesn’t go and the next person doesn’t go, who’s going to be there to help those boys?" Augusta asked.
She left Louisville to sit on a stool at the now-famous lunch counter in Greensboro day after day. She was never served. Instead she was spit on, kicked, and knocked off the stool. She was arrested and sent to jail twice. Crowds of people watched. They were especially vicious toward her because they thought she was white, not black.
Augusta’s reason made sense then and rings even more true now. Civil rights and union leader A. Philip Randolph put it best when he said, “Freedom is never given; it is won.”
It takes all of us to win every fight. With attempts to take us back to that shameful phase in our history where we were judged and treated based on the color of our skin, we need every single one of us in this fight.
Every major historical change was the result of the actions of a few brave people who wanted change. It took a group of 16 men to start the Journey of Reconciliation, which inspired the Freedom Rides and later the Greensboro sit-in. These actions, in turn, inspired other non-violent protests that eventually led to the legislation that outlawed racial discrimination.
We have made too much progress to go back and repeat the mistakes of the past.
“Augusta was AFGE’s most iconic leader – a champion who sacrificed everything to ensure future generations have a voice and a seat at the table,” said Jeremy Lannan, AFGE National Vice President for Women and Fair Practices. “The best way to honor her legacy is to keep fighting for fairness and equality, as she did for her entire life.”