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Franklin McCain Jr. lectures on campus for MLK Jr. Week of Celebration

Dean Raul Reis of the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, Franklin McCain Jr., and UNC Professor Carl Kenny pose together in the Freedom Forum Conference Center on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023.

“Unlike a lot of other people who have lost parents, I can now go on the internet, at any time, pull up a video and I can hear my father.”

Franklin McCain Jr. is the son of Franklin McCain, one of the members of the Greensboro Four — four students who staged a sit-in at Greensboro’s Woolworth's lunch counter on Feb. 1, 1960.  He spoke at the Freedom Forum Conference Center in Carroll Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 17, for Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Day of Action."

The sit-in movement spread to 55 cities in 13 states, and Woolworth began serving Black people later in July of that year.

McCain Jr.’s speech Tuesday night followed a student-led walk-out and sit-in held that afternoon, during which journalism and media students reflected on their shared experiences along with MLK Jr.'s legacy. 

The four N.C. A&T students who were members of the Greensboro Four were Franklin McCain Sr., David Richmond, Jibreel Khazan (who changed his name from Ezell Blair Jr.) and Joe McNeil.

“They said, look, we've got to do something, but they wanted to do it in a peaceful way. My father called this civil disobedience, and they wanted to be intentional,” McCain Jr. said. “They wanted to be deliberate and they wanted to be organized.”

McCain Jr. is the vice president of institutional investment at Bennett College, a private Greensboro HBCU for women. He looked back on his childhood experiences as the son of a civil rights hero.

“I remember Barbara Walters was one of my daddy's favorite news people. And all of a sudden I'm out in my yard one day riding my bike, and this car pulls up, and out walks this lady who I've been seeing on television,” he said.

Carl Kenney, an adjunct instructor at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, moderated the lecture. He also works as a spiritual leader for the Liberation Station, a bookstore and think tank in Durham, and is the managing editor for Rev-elution, a newspaper that mainly focuses on local economics and development affecting Black people. 

“Dr. King had an idea of a dream that Black kids and white kids would be able to hold hands, live life and build work together as a part of the beloved community,” Kenney said. 

However, McCain Jr. said he remembers feeling the ingrained racist values of those in opposition to the ideals of MLK Jr. and his father. 

“There were quite a few people who saw them as being problematic or troublemakers, and my brothers and I would oftentimes feel the wrath of their disdain,” he said. 

He went on to share an anecdote about getting his brake lines cut after he had been elected senior class president. 

Though McCain Jr. attended N.C. A&T like his father, his daughter attended UNC’s journalism school and created a documentary about her grandfather in her first year there. His son also attended N.C. A&T, and now plays in the NFL for the Philadelphia Eagles. 

McCain Jr. said there continues to be a disconnect between the college experience at a predominately white institution versus an HBCU for minority students. 

“Most of the time, they tell you, that it is because they felt like they never really belonged. They went to the school, but they never really found their family,” he said. 

Sophomore Ashley Santillan attended McCain Jr.’s speech.

“He was able to confirm everything that I think I personally, as a minority student, am also seeing at a PWI (predominantly white institution),” Santillan said. 

McCain Jr. highlighted modern forms of racism and pointed out small towns in North Carolina that remain in the past with harmful rhetoric towards minorities.

Kenney also talked about the importance of promoting safe spaces for all students and giving equal opportunities to minorities. 

“Predominately white institutions are grappling with this question of how to make safe spaces for Black students, faculty and staff members,” Kenney said. “We find the lack of real love when it comes to the ideas of Black people and scholarships.”

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McCain presented a piece of advice for all students in shaping a better and more inclusive UNC.

“Fall out of love with what might be popular and fall in love with what is right,” he said.