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  • robertfarago1

Juneteenth Sit-In (Greensboro, North Carolina)

In the summer of '81, tennis prodigy John McEnroe was unhappy with a line call at the genteel Wimbledon Tennis Tournament. YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS! McEnroe shouted at the umpire. The outburst marked the death of tennis as a gentleman's sport.

Big Mac's catchphrase had an opposite, civilizing effect on myself and my fellow New England Jews. It was a useful alternative to our usual expression of extreme displeasure: You're fucking kidding me!

We use McEnroe's kvetch in polite company (i.e., where you might get arrested). Like talking to the ticket counter agent who told me I got bumped from my flight because I didn't book it on the airline's app.

We reserve YFKM for friends and family, or times and places where life's vicissitudes or bureaucratic B.S. triggers apoplectic aggravation. Like when the cashier at the Greensboro Civil Rights Museum said I had to wear a COVID-style mask.


I shouldn't have said it, obviously. Especially not on the eve of Juneteenth, the federal holiday celebrating Union General Gordon Granger's General Order No. 3, issued to the general public on June 19th, 1865 in Galveston, Texas (of all places).

A decree declaring that "in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free." Two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, announcing “that all persons held as slaves are, and henceforward shall be free.”

The Rail Splitter’s Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863. I see the advantages of Juneteenth, as opposed to Newyearsteenth. I did not see the advantages of wearing a COVID mask to enter The International Civil Right Center and Museum on June 18, 2024.

While Google and its AI amigos are still suffused with pro-masking products polemics, the authoritative study Physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of respiratory viruses cautiously concluded that "Wearing masks in the community probably makes little or no difference to the outcome of influenza‐like illness."

I'm probably the guy who pointed out the irony of a museum celebrating civil rights forcing people to wear a symbol of government restrictions on civil rights (e.g., banning church services and suppressing speech).

My insight had no appreciable effect on the ticket seller, save eliciting a vague reference to some employee who was off sick.

So I paid $20 for the tour and wore the mask, and didn't get [any more] steamed-up about the scratchy face cover steaming-up my glasses.

The Greensboro Four

The Civil Rights Museum is housed in a former Woolworth's department store. The Woolworth's store. Ground Zero for the Greensboro Four.

The quartet of African American North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University students  took a seat at the "whites only" section of Woolie's lunch counter. They refused to leave when they were refused service.

It wasn't the first anti-segregationist "sit-in," but it's the most famous. For good reason. The protest escalated quickly and dramatically, garnering national media attention, inspiring hundreds of similar sit-ins throughout the South.

Five days later, on February 6, 1960, more than 1000 protesters and counter-protesters packed into Greensboro's Woolworth's. But it wasn't until July 25, when the store faced economic ruin, that management finally desegregated their L-shaped lunch counter.

The Greensboro International Civil Rights Center & Museum prepares visitors for a close encounter with the counter with exhibits charting the course of the Civil Rights Movement.

It's a succinct, sobering journey through the unconscionable experiences of Black Americans living with the failed promise of Lincoln's Proclamation and General Granger's General Order. Not to mention the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.

The video above gives you an idea of the exhibits on offer.

The museum is a powerful presentation, but nothing compared to close contact with the seats occupied by the Greensboro Four in the actual building they entered that chilly winter's afternoon, determined to reject a status quo that rejected them. Their humanity. Their dignity. Their self-worth.

The lunch counter put the main museum's last gallery – a muted memorial to Americans murdered by racists – into perspective.

For as much as we're shocked and outraged by racially-motivated violence, it obscures the greater sin: the white customers calmly eating lunch at Woolworth's segregated lunch counter. For decades. Nearly a century.

The tour guide didn't mention it, but wikipedia says an elderly white woman sitting at the counter that afternoon told The Greensboro Four, "I am just so proud of you. My only regret is that you didn't do this ten or fifteen years ago."

I wonder if she didn't regret protesting the segregation to the store manager before then.

Just as I regret that I didn't protest loudly enough against the COVID restrictions that violated Americans' civil rights. Just as I don't regret kvetching when the Greensboro museum made we wear a mask.

Ashe You Sow...

John McEnroe is remembered as the first, the original "bad boy" of tennis.

But it's Arthur Ashe – the African-American tennis champion who learned to play tennis on blacks-only courts in Richmond, Virginia – who deserves greater recognition for breaking through racial barriers.

After retiring from tennis, Ashe published A Hard Road to Glory: A History of the African-American Athlete. Part of his life-long campaign against segregation and racial intolerance.

“From what we get, we can make a living," he wrote. "What we give, however, makes a life.”

I hate to say it, but John McEnroe and I have given a lot of people grief.

After the museum, as I continued my Ridiculously Random Motorcycle Tour, I made a promise to myself to be more tolerant, patient, polite and open-minded.

You be the judge. And yes, I can be serious. Occasionally.

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79 views3 comments


Jun 21

i hope you are enjoying the bbq (wet or dry) and the free tea (meaning iced tea) refills in that part of the country. really hits the spot especially in this heat.


Jun 20

At our local pharmacy, had a similar experience, they want you to wear masks, even though there is no longer a so-called deadly epidemic. So I wrote a letter to the company, along with giving links to scientific studies, showing that masks are worthless. Problem is, true believers cannot be swayed by science.

Jun 21
Replying to

I'm having being swayed by science too, what with "scientific consensus" being touted as "settled science." Just sayin.

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