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1960s sit-in activists highlighted in WBTV reporter's documentaries
Franklin McCain, John Lewis focus of movies
Published Friday, January 31, 2020 8:00 pm
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

WBTV reporter Steve Crump's new documentaries highlight civil rights pioneers Franklin McCain, who launched the sit-in movement in Greensboro in 1960 as a freshman at North Carolina A&T State University, and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who participated in sit-ins and Freedom Rides as a Fisk University student.

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Sixty years after North Carolina became the epicenter of the civil rights movement, Charlotte filmmaker Steve Crump is documenting two of the era’s major activists.

Archival interviews with Franklin McCain, who led four North Carolina A&T State University students on a campaign to break segregation at a Greensboro Woolworth’s lunch counter, is the focus of “Franklin McCain Flashbacks: Observations of a Civil Rights Trailblazer.” The movie debuts Feb. 5 at the Harvey B. Gantt Center at 7 p.m. and airs Feb. 21 on WBTV Bounce at 7 p.m.

Another documentary, “John Lewis: Reflections of A Sit-In Pioneer,” which debuts on Bounce Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m. focuses on U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a veteran of key civil rights campaigns including the Freedom Rides, “Bloody Sunday” and the March on Washington.

“Sixty years is a long time,” said Crump, a WBTV reporter who started work on the projects last fall. “The reality is so many of these people are no longer with us. Franklin McCain passed away, back in [20]14; [Charlotte sit-ins activist] Charles Jones just a few weeks ago and Congressman John Lewis is going through his own health battle right now. It was one of those things where we were fortunately managed to save a lot of the interviews over the years. What you’re seeing is a bit of a mix from the standpoint of where they were. There were soundbites from some previous projects, but I think the beauty of the story is the fact that a lot of material got left on the cutting room floor from previous projects and we were able to resurrect those interviews and make some sense out of them.”

As a student at Fisk University, Lewis was inspired to join the civil rights movement because of the Feb. 1, 1960 sit-ins launched by McCain, a longtime Charlotte resident who died in 2014. McCain’s lunch counter activism, along with fellow freshmen Ezell Blair Jr., Joseph McNeil and David Richmond, spread across the South. Their legacy is immortalized by 15-foot statue on A&T’s campus.

“Black people, people of color, could not come into a store like a Woolworth, take a seat at a lunch counter and get something to eat,” Lewis said.

Said McCain: “I think I was just centered on a particular thought and I think I was free to let it come in.”

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One of the first cities to join the sit-in movement was Charlotte, where Jones, a Johnson C. Smith University graduate, drew inspiration from students at A&T and all-women’s Bennett College.

“When the gentlemen set out in Greensboro, we all knew, yes, here’s the handle” to fight segregation, said Jones, who died last month.

The interviews with Lewis, who has stage 4 colon cancer, were especially poignant for Crump, who is also battling the disease. Although he didn’t think much about their common struggle during the production phase, Crump has been more reflective since.

“I never thought of it that way,” he said. “I will tell you it was cathartic, it was therapeutic. Obviously, it was intellectually stimulating.”

Crump, The Post’s 2019 Educator of the Year and a reporter at WBTV since 1981, has produced more than 30 documentaries. His subjects have included African American jockeys’ role in the growth of thoroughbred horse racing, the life and times of Muhammad Ali, desegregation of Charlotte’s Harding High School in 1957 and the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre in which three black students were killed in a clash with law enforcement at a bowling alley. He plans to continue telling those types of stories, provided his wife Cathy, gives the green light.

“I need to check with my wife to see how far this is going to go,” said Crump, who is undergoing chemotherapy treatments for cancer. “But we’ve got a couple of things that we may be eyeing between now and the end of the year, I hope.”



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