One of the first lunch-counter civil rights demonstrators will speak at ISU Feb. 15

AMES, Iowa -- In 1960, four African-American college freshmen started a sit-in at a North Carolina dime store lunch counter. That simple act of civil disobedience evolved into a five-month protest by thousands that helped launch the civil rights movement in the South. Joseph McNeil, one of the four students, will speak about his experiences at Iowa State University on Feb. 15.

"Reflections of One of the Greensboro Four" will be at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 15, in the Memorial Union Great Hall. The presentation is free and open to the public.

McNeil was an Air Force ROTC student at North Carolina A&T State University on Feb. 1, 1960, when he sat down at Greensboro's "whites only" Woolworth lunch counter with three friends. They vowed to return every day until they were served. Each day, the number of sit-in student demonstrators increased, and soon the movement spread to lunch counters in 54 cities in nine states. They continued until the F.W. Woolworth Co. finally agreed to integrate its lunch counters.

In 1963, McNeil received his degree in engineering physics. The following year, he was commissioned in the U.S. Air Force and served as a navigator on the KC-135 Stratotanker air refueling/cargo aircraft. In 1969, he joined the Air Force Reserves, retiring as a major general. After working in banking and as a stockbroker, McNeil served as a manager of the Federal Aviation Administration's New York Flight Standards Division, Eastern Region, Europe and Africa. He has lived in Hempstead, N.Y., since 1970, and received the community's Medal of Honor in 2002.

McNeil's presentation is cosponsored by the Ames Public Library, the ISU history department, Black Graduate Student Association,
Dean of Students Office, Multicultural Student Programming Advisory Council and the Committee on Lectures, which is funded by the Government of the Student Body. More information on ISU lectures is available at, or by calling 515-294-9935.